Each winter for the past few years I've headed to the NSW alps to explore the area north of Mt Kosciuszko. It is a wild and sometimes hostile landscape that, regardless of it's mood is full of breathtaking beauty. Peaceful and calm one moment, it can change its temperament in a matter of hours and become one of the most destructive and uncaring places I have experienced.
This year myself and a friend, Matt Bevan planned to head out for 8 days. We had two goals, one was to explore the area west of Mt Twynam and the other was to climb the ice around Blue lake, one of the only ice climbing areas to be found in Australia. We each carried around 38 kgs of gear with us, food, climbing gear, fuel, everything we needed for the week. This was aided by sleds or ‘pulks’ *, the sleds were a very efficient way to carry the massive amount of gear we had and cut the weight in our packs to only 15 kgs, a godsend. I decided to leave my camera gear at home due to the weight and instead would use my iPhone along the way. I have found this works nicely as I don't overly obsess getting the perfect shot and I can immerse myself completely in my surroundings. Ok, there are a few times when getting the shot isn't everything.
We left the Guthega carpark at 7.30am and followed the Snowy river upstream for 8 kms to the base of Hedley Tarn, a shallow lake situated between the Upper Snowy river and Blue lake. This would serve as our base for the trip. We made it to camp in the early afternoon and went about setting up, digging into the hill and building snow walls to protect us from any weather that may come in. By 4pm camp was established, we had dinner and crashed, we were exhausted but we were here!
The next morning we travelled the 2 kms to Blue lake and climbed all day. The weather was perfect and the ice was in good condition, we lead a few of the easier walls to reacquaint ourselves with the ice and brushed up on our mountaineering skills. By 3.30 we were spent and returned to camp, tired but happy, we ate dinner and headed for bed. I find I am usually in bed before the sun sets when trekking in the snow, the temperature can drop fast once the sun is gone and you burn a lot energy just trying to stay warm. You very quickly fall into a natural rhythm, waking at first light and going to bed at dusk, you conserve your energy and make the most of the short days.
A storm had moved in overnight and I awoke to a howling easterly wind and heavy rain, I also heard Matt groaning from his tent. He informed me that he was in a bad way with intense abdominal pain. We discussed options and decided that we needed to get him to a doctor, better to err on the side of caution. This was a problem as we couldn't safely move in the storm and it would be difficult for anyone to get to us. We rode out the day in the tents making sure Matt was fully hydrated and constantly assessing his health. I managed to get in contact with the ski patrol at Charlottes Pass and informed them of our situation. We would try hiking out the next morning if the storm broke but would set off our PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) if things got worse and get help to come to us. The storm, thankfully, had passed during the night and at first light we were slowly making our way to Charlottes Pass. We reached the park boundary and flagged down the ski patrol. They were ready for us and rushed Matt to the medical centre and by 3pm he was safely, but unfortunately on his was home.
As I would have to head back to hike all our gear out anyway, I decided to see out the rest of the trip. The weather was now clear and warm with not a breath of wind. The sharp contrasts of the Australian high country have to be experiences to be believed. I spent the next 5 days touring across the main range, exploring the areas west of Mt Twynam and succeeded in climbing out to The Sentinel (something I had wanted to do for 3 years)
The longest I had spent on my own out here previously was only a day or two, to be on my own for this long was a humbling experience. I felt insignificant in this vast wilderness, I became acutely aware of how little this place cared if I was safe or warm or happy, any of the things we expect to be cared about. I was totally reliant on myself for my safety and I was not the most important thing in this world. That gave me a strong sense of my real place in the world and I felt better for it. I was not my career, my Facebook status or what people thought of me, I was simply a spectator being briefly allowed to witness this truly beautiful place.