As a contributor to Mountainwatch and the founder of Mountain Journal, Cam Walker knows the Australian backcountry better than most. Here are his big 3 trips that all skiers and splitboarders should have on their radar.
2018: What a winter. Best June start in 17 years, and it just keeps on going.
I hope you’re well into a fantastic season with lots of trips locked in. A bit of resort is fun. Weekend trips are great. But winter is not winter without at least one big outing.
If I had a spare month, a good snow-base, and a bit of good weather, here’s my must do backcountry touring trip hit list…
The Western Slopes Of The Main Range (NSW)
To really appreciate the incredible slopes along the western side of the Snowies, you need at least a couple of days. Ski in from Dead Horse Gap, Thredbo, the Skitube/Perisher, Guthega resort or Guthega Pondage and treat yourself to the biggest alpine terrain in the country.
There is a huge mix of terrain, from the moderate to the desperate: gullies, chutes, cliffs, broad spurs, with the grandest section stretching along the western fall of the range between Abbott Peak and Watsons Crags.
This is wild and windswept country, and hard to escape from when blizzards come in. Dig your camp in, and consider taking your human waste out with you. Don’t camp in the catchments of the glacial lakes. You can get avalanches on some slopes. 2018 has seen a lot of wind scour. Be prepared for extreme winds, and all snow conditions, from sheet ice to dry powder, and have an awesome time.
Mt Howitt (VIC)
Mt Howitt sits at the head of the Howqua, Macalister and Wonnangatta valleys. In winter it feels incredibly remote, even as you look across the valley to the lights of Mt Buller resort. It’s hard to get to, with the three key approaches (from Bluff Hut via the Howqua in the west, Lake Cobbler to the north, or through Licola and right along the Snowy Range to the south) all taking several days. Climbing up and over The Bluff takes an extra day but adds a great ‘alpine’ dimension to the trip.
Highlights include untracked terrain, long touring on the approach, quiet snow gum forests, and The Crosscut Saw – the most impressive ridgeline in the state (OK, it’s probably a contest between the Crosscut and The Razorback). Vallejo Gantner Hut – a wonderful A-frame in a gorgeous location at Macalister Springs – makes a wonderful base.
There are big slopes to ski or ride and the snow gum meadows south of the hut towards Howitt Plains are incredibly beautiful. As with other high and steep ridges, use caution on the Crosscut which can be icy and scary.
There is a brief guide available here.
The Ducane Traverse (TAS)
In solid snow conditions, I still think this is the most incredible mountain trip in the country. It’s located at the southern end of the Overland Track, and requires either a day and a half walk along Lake St Clair and past Narcissus Hut to get to the start (or a ferry hire on Lake St Clair, and half-day walk up the Overland to Ducane Gap).
Once you leave the Overland, it’s a 2-day traverse along a high rocky ridge over Mt Massif that connects to the Ducane Range. Thick rainforest and boulderfields guard the start of the climb, but once you’re onto Falling Mountain/Castle Crag, you then have the most incredible alpine terrain until you descend into the Pool of Memories in The Labyrinth. There can be dangerous conditions in the boulderfields before Mt Massif, and an exposed climb from Big Gun Pass. Snowshoes would be the best option for the crossing rather than skis/splitboard (and easier for the sections through the trees).
It’s mind blowingly good. There’s a brief guide to the trip available here.
Other Backcountry Trips
Yes. There’s heaps of great country for longer winter exploring and touring that also offer great downhill runs, as well as some that are just epic in winter. Some obvious ones are:
- Any remote range in Tassie once it snows (mostly just epic rather than having skiing, although you can get lucky!)
- The Cobberas area in eastern VIC – a remote range with skiing/riding through snowgum woodlands and granite peaks
- The Kiandra to Kosciuszko traverse – often involving long sections of walking and many stream crossings
- Mt Jagungal – our northernmost mountain over 2,000m above sea level. A bulky, beautiful mountain well worth the long ski-in
- The Australian Alps Walking Track – Walhalla to the edge of Canberra!
- Mt Bogong and Feathertop – Bogong has cliffs, shutes, gullies and the long mellow runs of Cairn Gully and Feathertop’s eastern face is an extreme ski/riding destination suitable only for experts
- The Overland Track in Tasmania (take snowshoes) – the benefits of doing it in winter are mostly empty huts and wild peaks and the possibility of waist deep snow.
Long backcountry trips are good for the body, the mind and the spirit. Hope you can get at least one in this winter.
This article was originally published on The Mountain Journal.
Header photo – Professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones dropping into a nice face in the Threbo backcountry by Tony Harrington