Sunday, 3 August 2014

Only Bluffing

Yesterday was stellar.
Weather systems like these are few and far between, and so I owe a big one to my beautiful wife who granted me an undeserved leave pass. Tonight I am cooking and cleaning. I have bought flowers.
But when the snow is low, you just gotta go. Last week when I saw it'd be dumping in places like Lorne, Ballarat and Wilson's Prom, I called Morry's Bluff - and he called Charlie's.
These near sea-level events tend to favour the southern resorts, so unless you want to ski Baw Baw or join the Buller Congo Line, that usually means Stirling. 
Or the Bluff.   

If you can get there that is. The road up to Refrigerator Gap is never cleared, and the days leading up to the cold front had been very windy, so we packed the chainsaw. Fortunately some of the local lads had obviously been up the day before and done some of the heavy lifting where trees were concerned.
Morry had been on-call overnight, so we couldn't get away from Melbourne before 0600. The drive up was pretty spectacular with a very frosty winters'  Yarra Valley and the snow line down to 800 metres. We made Refrigerator by 10 after stopping in Mansfield for a coffee, and then the usual farnarkling around with chains once the road got too sketchy. A couple of bushwalkers ploughed the road in front of us with their serious 4WD but I could still feel the snow scraping the bottom of the car under my feet.

We put on skins at the Gap, and got a kilometre under the belt before it got too steep. We then started climbing the "World's Most Beautiful Boot Pack" (TM registered) through a winter wonderland of cliffs, ice and frosted snow gums.
Although it was still minus 8 degrees, the day was still and sunny.

At the top we put skins back on and headed up to the summit. Our first run was from the Bluff cairn due east into a gladed bowl through superb dry silky snow.
Discounting the ninety-thousand across the valley waiting in lift queues, there was not another soul around. The snow-covered wilderness of alpine Victoria stretched east for hundreds of kilometres.

Not relishing a descent via the same route as our climb, we decided to yo-yo the entire day all the way to Mt Eadley-Stoney and then back along the Bluff Track. After climbing back up to the northerly peak of the Bluff, we had a glorious descent through the driest snow I have ever skied in the southern hemisphere, if not the planet. 

The massif of the Bluff and Eadley-Stoney rest like the hulls of some gargantuan fleet of breeching shipwrecks. The gentle east-facing slopes of the decks collect good snow and are only exposed to morning sunshine. 
They are fairly tame skiing, but with snow like yesterday this never really matters.
And if you want gnarly, there is always the Blow Hole...

The Blow Hole is a steep couloir that divides the Bluff and Eadley-Stoney. There is nothing else like it in Australia, but unfortunately it is seldom skiable. It is one of those lines that you fantasise about striking on a perfect day, and yesterday was almost that day.
The upper section was solid, and the throat well covered with a foot of fresh dry powder. However down in the mid zone, wind had scoured the cover back to grass and rocks, and unfortunately this was where I had to pull up short. The full line of the Blow Hole would have to await another day.

After extracting myself from the Blow Hole we skied down a northeast slope through pretty glades of superb snow - all the way down to 1400 metres. Amazingly, even at this altitude the snow was like Hokkaido fluff. 
We decided to have lunch and cooked up some pasta which went down a treat.

After lunch we climbed back up to the first peak of Eadly-Stoney and got a beautiful gentle line down through champagne powder. Whilst slightly lower than the Bluff, Eadley-Stoney probably offers better lines with an even aspect and more open glades at the lower altitudes. 

We then climbed back up the previous skin-track (past the upside-down buried yeti: that's how much snow there is this year) to the northernmost peak of Eadley-Stoney for a last powder line in the settling afternoon light. The views across to the Cross Cut Saw and beyond to Bogong, the Fainters and Feathertop were incredible. 

We then skinned back up to northern ridge where we marvelled at Howitt and the Cross Cut Saw, and at how far away they still seemed.
Then we skied all the way down the ridge to the Bluff Hut.

After a false start by me, we set off down the Bluff Track. This was partly thrilling and partly terrifying. I have certainly not been so totally out of control for a very long time. With turning not really an option, we had to straight-line it and sit on the tails of our skis to avoid crucifying our skis on underlying rocks that several bushwalkers had turned up.
I also only narrowly avoided a gate. But shooting down a forest trail with the sun setting through the mountain ash and woolly-buts was a truly remarkable experience. 

A couple of 4WDs had evidently ventured up to the locked gate during the day, and the trail had been compacted into a pair of very slick icy paths which made for fast progress on both the ups and downs.
We skied all the way down to bottom out at 1100 metres which is the lowest I've ever travelled on alpine skis in Oz.

The setting sun on the cliffs (and Blow Hole, below) was spectacular. We were back at the car by 1800 for a nervous descent in the car, made all the more so after passing a couple who'd slid off the road and were awaiting rescue.

Truly spectacular country and one of our better days out on skis anywhere, even making a couple of those days out on l'Haut Route seem ordinary in comparison.

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