You might think that a seven-hour drive and three hour ski in gale-force winds would go a long way toward ensuring that our home away from home was less than crowded. That we would, in effect, have the place pretty much to ourselves. Such was not the case. We weren’t even the first to arrive for the long weekend. Three other snow campers caught up with us at the dam and made it to the hut before we arrived.

Then there was Basil, a dusky antechinus. He/She seemed to be a regular at Edmondson’s hut and was entirely blase about human intruders. We heard the next morning that that Basil had curled up inside the hearth of the fireplace with a fire going. It sounded almost suicidal, but none of us was an expert.

According to Wikepedia, the Dusky Antechinus is active at many times of the day. It mostly eats invertebrates, although it will occasionally devour small lizards and skinks. It has a short and vigorous mating season (which occurs during winter), after which all of the males die. If Basil was male, then his days were numbered and he should definitely be out enjoying himself.

We were six when we started out, but Frank was already crook (sick) with a bad cold. He and his son spent much of Saturday in the tent. Unfortunately, the cold went from bad to worse. They finally packed it on on Sunday morning and skied out.

It never seemed hectic during our winter sojourn, but we were inundated with visitors. Forty people or more came through there in the five days of our getaway. It was an easy ski from Falls Creek; it had a hut with a fireplace, a drop toilet and water from a creek. By winter camping standards, it was positively luxurious.

Nearly half the visitors were Army officers on special training. We didn’t see them in the hut, but they were out there, sleeping in snow caves. Their lead instructor was also suffering from a cold so he hung out at the hut. I peppered him with the kind of questions only a foreigner can get away with. “Are you expecting an airborne invasion of Al Qaeda operatives up here in the Victorian Alps?”

He humored me. The training was not specifically about waging war in the snow, he said. It was about testing oneself in a challenging situation.These were all officers, volunteers who would take this training back to their day jobs. They would gain confidence and train others. He let us in one deep, dark secret. Their final night was going to be spent in snow caves without sleeping bags. I didn’t want to be around in the morning. Especially if they had guns.

Alan had offered me a place in his tent. He had no idea how generous that was. I didn’t sleep a wink the first night because of the incredible wind. While he had a steel bladder, I had to get up in the middle of the night, not once, but twice. I had to turn on my torch (flash light) and crawl over him to emerge on the leeward side of the tent. We swapped places the next day and I got much better at my midnight exits, which were mercifully brief. When I did manage to get to sleep, I have no doubt that I snored. Loudly.

Someday, it will all be forgiven. And perhaps we’ll do it again. We’re such slow learners, humans. But then, we have much more time than Basil and we have the long days of summer to forget.

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