Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Western Faces 11-14 October 2011

After losing out to bad weather so many times in seasons past, I wasn’t about to let a little late October snow spoil a final fling on the Main Range this year. Another Geelong Grand Final win had again delayed my spring skiing. Fortunately my mate Phil could find time in his hectic Byron Bay idyll to fly to Albury where I picked him up on Monday in time to make Thredbo before we needed chains.
Tuesday dawned promising, and the drive to Charlotte’s was stunning under a crisp dusting. But as we climbed Mt Clarke without any particular plan, the weather came in again such that we were soon navigating blind through a freezing whiteout that threatened to blow out our fillings. It seemed obvious that I had brought the Main Range Curse with me, and if it wasn’t for the Garmin and a whole lotta brail, we might well have made the following evening’s news. With little hope of any skiing, we hunkered down in some random spot that seemed vaguely flat and sheltered and passed a fairly boring arvo exhausting our limited supply of booze.
On Wednesday morning, I was finally rewarded for my perseverance. The day was still and cloudless. In my eagerness I ran a quick line from the Carruthers Peak back down to camp, losing an edge on the boilerplate and degloving my hand in the process. Fortunately Dr Phil was at hand with his outdated medical supplies to patch things up. Then it was back over Carruthers and down into Little Austria which was similarly icy but nonetheless spectacular for a couple of newby Mexicans. We skinned up to the Northcote Pass and then down the Grandstand which held some nice wind-packed fresh. Whilst Phil was catching his breath on the shores of Lake Albina, I climbed Townsend and put tracks down the first Racecourse run which was already corning up beautifully. Phil came up for a turn down the first and I hit the second which has an awesome fall-line before a glorious gentle gully surrounded by mighty granite torrs. We had lunch, then I went up again and over to Alice Rawson. Whilst keen on skiing Ian’s which looked special, the snow was rapidly warming and I was worried about setting off a leg-breaking gloopavalanche whilst solo. We had also seen a bizarre feature in the snow which had also interested a couple of annoying Naval choppers all morning. So instead I took a gentler southerly line back towards Racecourse II, which was magic. To be getting 250m+ verticals each run and still be descending to an altitude on par with Feathertop’s summit was surreal. 
Woke up Phil from his slumber back at Albina with about a half a tonne of sprayed slush, and then we hoiked up to Northcote. Since reading about the old speed skiing course down the Golden Eagle, I was pretty intent on having a crack - without straight-lining it which seemed like a waste after a big climb. Then back up to Mt Lee where we bumped into some tele dudes and Pete. Phil went back to camp, and Pete and I had a run east off Lee’s lee down to Club Lake Creek.
Farewelled Pete and then back up to camp where we cooked dinner before a last climb up to watch the sunset over the Western Faces, fulfilling a long wish.
On Thursday we packed up camp and headed up to Twynam and then across to Tenison Woods Knoll. I got an unbelievable line off the peak of the Knoll, down a ridge and then successive gullies down to 1650. To get 500 meters of vert in Oz is amazing, but to get it mid-October was for me utterly astonishing.
Unbeknownst to me, Phil lost a ski (mine) down the Avalanche Face, and spent the morning retrieving it. I think he was relieved not to have to descend into Watsons. It was only his second time skiing in ten years and his first ever ski tour. He is a trouper and I love him as only a backcountry man can. 
Although I desperately wanted another line down into Siren Song, I had to get Phil back to Jindy so he could hitch to Canberra for his flight home - and I was under strict instructions to make the kids bath-time back in Melbourne.
We stopped for a dunking in Spencers Creek - me for the ritual end of season cleansing, and Phil because I wouldn’t let him back in my car without a wash. 
As I sit here contemplating the endless days of babysitting and sundry matrimonial favours that lie ahead, I can only marvel at this epic season. From the first snowfalls in Westons Hut with Phil (see above) in May, it has been a blast. And the highlight without a doubt has been the Western Faces. The Terrain on the Main is bloody insane.

 A fresh dusting the day before had crystallised everything. 

We set off from Charlotte's in fine weather. Phil quickly got the hang of things.

Then the weather came in...

And got worse...


So we found some place random and hunkered down.

And awoke to this!

Just off the shoulder of Curruthers.

Sunrise on Townsend

Sastrugi rime and boilerplate.

We decided to head off.

But not before a bit of blood for breaky.

The Sentinel looked sweet.

Climbing out of Little Austria.

The Crags in the distance.

Climbing up Racecourse I

Tracks down Racecourse II

Little Austria

My tracks off Alice Rawson

Phil awoken from his slumber

Men of the BC part I

My line off Golden Eagle

From the top

Interesting snow phenomena

My lines off RC I and AR

Pete descending Lee

Sunset from Curruthers

Sunset Sentinel

Dusk over the Western Faces

Sunset behind Alice Rawson

Moonrise over Twynam

Looking back at Curruthers

Looking back up at Twynam from 1600m after nearly 600m descent! In October!

My line off TWK


The climb out was past these awesome tors

Backside Sentinel



Ritual cleansing Spencer Creek, men of the BC II

Men of the BC III

Farewell Western Faces until next time...

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