You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Victorian Alps’ category.


Every once in awhile, our local newspaper ( not known for outlandish or salacious stories) comes up with a headline that could be straight out of a supermarket tabloid.  This morning’s paper had one of those.  The mysterious “spy” apparatus that contributed to the successful rescue of Tim Holding, Water Minister for the State of Victoria, was not revealed, but it did catch one’s attention.

It has to do with some thermal imaging technology being developed for the Australian Federal Police to track fugitives. No one at any level of government would actually fess up to providing it for the search, but authorities insisted that Tim was treated no differently than any other lost citizen.  Right.  I’m sure they would have sent out a spy plane for me, too.  And I could have been there.  I’m just as foolish as the minister, maybe more so.  And nowhere near as fit.

The story began a couple of days ago, when the thirty-seven year old cabinet minister decided to go hiking.  It is still winter, here, remember, and the mountain he chose to climb is notorious for bad weather.  At 1922 meters (6306 feet) Feathertop is only  the second highest peak in Victoria, but when the weather is clear,  the views are stunning and  it is a magnet for hikers in summer and winter.

3819496941_e1cd4d2d2f

Faithful readers who followed my misadventures in the Victorian Alps last year may be wondering why I have not followed up with another snow camping expedition.  The answer can be summed up in one word– Feathertop.  My companions had decided (without consulting me) that they were going to carry nearly thirty kilos (66 pounds) of skis, boots, tents, food and gear up a steep mountain in order to camp out, melt snow for water, and hope the weather gods would give them one good, clear day.  It did, but the snow was too treacherous to summit.

Their tents were just outside Federation Hut, Tim Holding’s last abode before he disappeared.  Here are a few excerpts from Alan’s report on the trip I missed– “5 hour up, the last 2 km very hard through probably not that much steeper… needed frequent stops to get breath.  On the last day [we were there] one fit guy climbed it in 3 hr with a full pack plus two 4 ltr wine casks…. wind buffeting us as we climbed feathertop, so retreated and skied part way towards MUMC hut but stopped before getting onto NW spur ridge as intermittent whiteout, and would be steep decline on windy ridge…

“Howling gale last night but hut, tents mostly protected.  All but 7 cm snow blown off leaving icy surface in most places… When we arrive to climb feathertop we find boilerplate ice, too difficult for skis or plastic boots.  The man [they had seen earlier at the hut with his fifteen year-old son] is further up with bloodied face, frozen with fear, standing at the bush that saved his fall but afraid to move.  We kick in steps… and get him down to the saddle….”

Tim Holding set out from his car to tackle Feathertop on Saturday afternoon.  At 6:30 that evening, he sent a text message to his partner that he was at the hut, 200 meters from the summit.  Sunday morning he headed for the peak, telling other walkers that he would turn back if the weather conditions were bad.  He didn’t have snowshoes, crampons, an ice ax or an emergency beacon.  And he was alone.

“In those conditions I made good progress, made it on to the summit and in fact the summit’s not marked and I walked over the top and started walking down the other side,” he said. “When I realised I’d gone too far I turned and walked back over the summit and as I came down the other side to return to the Federation Hut I slipped on some ice and fell.

“I fell a long way, a long, long way. It wasn’t a controlled descent and I fell until I reached a small ledge, slipping and sliding on the ice and there were unbelievably three other walkers.”

The group checked to see if he was alright and asked if he wanted to join them but as they were headed towards the summit and dressed in snow shoes, he decided it would be too dangerous for him to attempt to walk along the slippery ice.  So, he headed down to lower ground, thinking he would walk in the snow and follow a creek down the mountain, find the Owens River which would lead him to the Alpine Road and safety.  That was his second major mistake.

The following day there were around eighty members of the police and volunteers out looking for him, including helicopters and the mystery plane.  He was found by a helicopter over 2.5 kms (1.5 miles) away yesterday morning.  He was cold, out of food, and a bit disoriented, but otherwise fine.  And he still had water.  He was a very lucky man.  In a TV interview, he said that he thought he was going to die.

Alan’s take on the high profile misadventure goes like this– “We turned back 3 times at the lower end of this very rise. [where Tim Holding slipped and fell] Once for extreme wind and twice because each time we judged it too slippery without crampons, especially for coming down when you can’t kick your toes in to make a grip. We obviously made the right choice.”

My fellow cyclist and avid back country skier did his very best to make the adventure up on Feathertop sound appealing, but unless he promises me my very own helicopter,  I think I’ll pass.  Life is short enough, and there’s plenty of wine down here in the plains.  And water comes right out of the tap without having to be melted.  Stay tuned.  Life is always interesting down under.


Our destination for the winter camping trip was a place called Falls Creek, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the northeast, on the way to Sydney. A good part of the travel there is on the Hume Highway, one of the most heavily trafficked stretches of bitumen (asphalt) in all of Australia. That part is fast. The last section, when you head toward the Alpine region, makes up for it. It is a slow, two-lane road, threading its way through farm country, gradually climbing into the Alpine National Park.

Our foray into the snow began long before we set out. For me it started on June 24 with a casual email from Alan, my cycling friend, alerting me to the fact that a winter adventure was in the works. It would likely happen the second week of August. Would I like to come?

Like a small snowball accumulating size and speed on its way downhill, a flurry of emails followed over the next five weeks, some were about dates and details, others were simply banter among the various members of the group. When it all shook out, there were six people going for five days the first week of August. It was all still weather dependent, of course. Rain can ruin the best-laid plans of ski trips, and winter weather here. like all Victorian weather, is anything but consistent.

The last weather prediction we received before heading out had good news and bad. The good news was that new snow was predicted. The not-so-good news was that it would probably be accompanied by gale-force winds. It didn’t occur to me that gale-force winds driving pellets of snow can feel like a shotgun blast.

The plan was to rise very, very early on Friday morning, meet at a designated carpool spot, then head out for the long drive in order to be at the campsite by early afternoon. I suspect I was not the only one who spent a restless night waiting for the alarm clock to bounce me out of bed at 3:30 am. We were on the road by 5:15, rolling into a McDonald’s just before our exit off the Hume Highway by 8:30. It was packed.

With the exception of some of the automobiles, an industrial-strength, Italian espresso machine and odd items on the menu, it could have been snow country, USA. There were skis and snowboards, parkas and boots. Heavy sweaters and hardy looking folks wolfing down bacon and egg sandwiches with a curious breakfast condiment, barbecue sauce.

From there, we headed east on the country road, through Myrtleford, Bright and Mt. Beauty. Then the climb began. Cars came toward us with patches of snow stuck to the roof, but we were driving through rain as well. We were almost at Falls Creek before it became apparent that there was going to be plenty of snow on the ground. The base of the ski resort is at an elevation of 1500 meters (nearly 5000 feet.)

On the last Saturday in August, Falls Creek hosts the Kangaroo Hoppet, a 42 km cross country race that counts as a main race with the Worldloppet ski Federation. Over the years, the event has been dominated by Australian racers, but last year’s male winner came from Germany.

We nosed our way to a likely spot in the huge parking lot, unloaded the Subaru, and headed off. The wind was whipping up. One of our members was already nursing a cold that would end up ruining the trip for him and his son. There were at least ten kilometers to go with 20 kilo (44 pound) packs on our backs and it was not going to get any warmer. Little did I know I would soon be plunging into an icy stream.

Stay tuned for the misery.


It was all going wrong. I had deviated off the white path just far enough to plunge my boots into icy water. The gale force wind I had battled to get here now seemed the least of my worries. Floundering in the soft snow, I wriggled out of my pack to get a grip on myself. The whole world had suddenly turned threatening.  What had seemed a bit of a lark in the planning stage now conjured up dark clouds in my brain. If my socks were soaked I would never make it.

If I could have had Dorothy’s wish at that moment, I would have abandoned my companions. I would have clicked my boots together and disappeared back to Kansas, my real birthplace. Back to someplace warm and dry. friendly and safe. After a summer in North America, winter down under was proving much too real.

In the Alpine region of Australia, in the Great Dividing Range, the first week of August is mid winter.  There can be some serious snow. And it gets cold. Not frostbite cold, but cold enough to kick you out of your comfort zone and make you think twice about thermals.

I had gone winter camping exactly once before. It was in Spring in the Sierra Mountains of California. The weather was above freezing and I don’t remember feeling even mildly uncomfortable. It was part of a Sierra Club course.  To get us in the mood, a sardonic physician showed us slide after slide of bodies he had helped recover from the mountains,  narrating the grisly show with the facts leading to each disaster. It was a litany of despair.

A number of the victims had made simple mistakes in preparation or judgment which cascaded into errors that cost them their lives. These were not candidates for Darwin Awards; simply ordinary young people. His mission was to jar us out of our feelings of invincibility and especially out of blue jeans.  Wet cotton is worse than death.  It can leach warmth out of a body quicker than melting icicles.

It was the rapelling (abseilling in Australian) that terrified me. The girl who fed me rope as I lowered myself off the face of a cliff told me later she had never seen such sheer fear outside of a horror movie. I was older than most of the others, old enough to realize that I could actually die. Walking backwards off the edge of a precipice seemed like the height of folly.

What was I doing now floundering waist deep in snow, hapless as a newborn seal.  Hadn’t I learned over the  years? I remember being captivated by Alan’s snow camping Polaroids.  He had passed them across the table like dirty pictures, his secret life.  We knew one another from cycling.

He was getting me hooked.  Winter is not something you get a good sense of here in Australian cities.  It gets chilly and it rains but it never snows.  The days grow shorter and the nights longer.  People hunker down as if it were something to be endured.

But I have lived in cold climes.  I love cross country skiing and the prospect of seeing winter in Oz had irresistible appeal. And Alan was very experienced. He’d been doing it for thirty years. He wouldn’t let me die. Would he?

This is the first part of a few posts on my recent adventure in the Alps. Stay tuned.

Flickr Photos

P6110011.jpg

P6110010.jpg

P6110009.jpg

P6110005.jpg

P6110002.jpg

More Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 40,419 hits
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 141 other followers

Top Rated

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Categories