Saturday, 21 September 2013

Rumble on Jagungal

Sometimes it's all about the approach...
After a pretty crappy winter and warm wet spring (including a nasty August hamstring injury), skiing has been off the radar for the better part of September. In fact spring hasn't looked so grim in a while, with only the Main Range still offering any lingering lines. And with the Alpine way closed indefinitely following a landslide between Khancoban and Tom Groggin (and with precious little snow to clear anyway), the Tooma Road had been opened prematurely this year in a bid to grant Mexicans like me passage to the NSW ski fields. It's a good and very scenic road, and it's a shame they don't ordinarily keep it open through winter. But it's still a very long drive to the resorts - unless, that is, you've had your eyes set on the northernmost peak over 2000 m on the Australian mainland since you could remember...
A long way from just about anywhere, Mt Jagungal (2061 m asl) sits in the middle of the Jagungal Wilderness, which is certainly wilderness enough in winter when any venture into its midst almost always necessitates a couple of nights' hut stays or snow camping. 
Since Charlotte was little, we've had a bedtime game known as 'Rumble in the Jungle' which is now enjoyed by all 3 kids and which is basically stacks-on-Daddy. Maman isn't fond of it as it tends to get the kids wound up before bedtime, and usually ends up in tears - and she tends to get a little embarrassed on seeing a grown man cry.
After a night at the G on Friday watching the Cats (who insist impinging on my spring skiing) go down in a close one to Hawthorn, I got a few hours sleep before waking up Charlotte and heading off at 5a.m. on Saturday morning. We made the Round Mountain Trail Head car-park in just over five hours, and set off on the 15 km undulating trail to Derschko's Hut. I was surprised that it had snowed the previous day down to about 1500 m, with up to 20 cm of fresh at altitude, and was a little concerned at how my 8 year old would go trudging through slush. I had some new mini kicker-skins that I could have christened but stuck to walking so I could try to keep her feet dry, which was RULE NUMBER ONE... and which was broken soon enough.
It was all very beautiful - such a vast area of rolling alpine wonderland that seems to stretch forever, a massive space, interspersed with exquisite trout-filled streams, and a crisp and incredible light that stretches the mind. And muscles - over the three days we clocked up over 50 kilometres and nearly 3000 m of vertical. Navigation at least is easy as the country is sparsely wooded, with 
Jagungal itself serving as a massive ever present guiding beacon.
We walked in and out in stunning weather, but unfortunately scored a crap day on Sunday (when it mattered) for our ascent up Jagungal itself. The morning had looked promising, but the bad weather came in at about 1900 m (we couldn't find any direct trail and ended up bush-bashing up a moraine field). By 2000 m it was cold, windy and snowing so that when we got to the true summit it was more or less a whiteout. By this time, Charlotte had broken through snow into deep puddles and her feet were saturated. I was a bit concerned so put her on my shoulders and skied down the gentle northwest-facing corridor down to 1800 m to get her out of the weather. It was my only line for the whole 3 days, which is a long way to have ported skis and boots for.
But if skiing Mt Blanc taught that it's not all about me, this trip has taught me that it's not even always about the skiing. The greatest gift you can give your kids is an appreciation for the outdoors, and this was an ambitious alpine induction by anyone's standards. Back in Derschko's (which we had turned into a 27-degree sauna) for lunch, I dozed off with Charlotte giving me a massage whilst she read exerts from "A quoi tient la beaut√© des montagnes" When I awoke the sun was out and I remarked that we would have been better climbing in the afternoon - to which she replied: "Let's go!"Again.
I think she's a convert. 
This time we double-layered socks with plastic bags, and then sleeked (Sleek is gaffer-tape for anaesthetists: it holds several Victorian public hospitals together) her gaiters and shoes.
Unfortunately in trying to find the true path up for our second summit, I ended up making a navigational error which committed us to smashing through alpine heath for about an hour. Whilst waist-high for me, it was over Charlotte's head and whilst her feet remained dry, the rest of her was pretty soon soaked. Then the weather came in again and we decided to call it a day.
On the walk out on Monday, Charlotte and I made a pact to return to this very special place - hopefully next time on skis for the entire route once her feet are big enough for an alpine touring rig.

The following photos got muddled in the upload and are in no particular order. Click photo for slideshow (62 culled from about a thousand...)

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