AAC 3-01 Will Ashton Kosci Hotel 

 

AAC 3-02 Kiandra 1928This installment of ski heritage photos takes you back to the 1920's when skiers were planning the first crossing of the Snowy Mountains on skis. Although skiers had penetrated the Snowy Mountains "Back Country" from both Kiandra and the Kosciusko Hotel, no skiers had done the 75 mile (120 km) journey linking the two ski resorts on skis. But the Australian Ski Yearbook for 1928 contains accounts, not only of the first ski trip between Kiandra and Kosciusko, but also of a 50 mile (80 km) ski trip "Across the Bogongs" in Victoria, which we plan to cover in a future installment.

 

AAC 3-03 Tin Hut 1987Dr Herbert Schlink, Vice-President of the Ski Club of Australia, was one of Australia's leading skiers in the 1920's. He had set record after record for the 34 mile (55 km) round-trip from the Hotel Kosciusko to the Kosciuszko Summit. In 1921 he went to Kiandra unsuccessfully seeking a local skier to join his planned Kiandra to Kosciuszko ski trip. His advance planning recognized that, although there were a few huts at the Kiandra end of the planned journey that could provide shelter and be stocked with food supplies, there was a 38 mile (61 km) interval between Farm Ridge Hut and Betts Camp with no shelter huts of any description. The New South Wales Government decided to support Schlink's planned trip by building two small tin huts along the planned route – one is still known as Tin Hut (Photo 3) and the other was known as Pounds Creek Hut or Tin Hut 1, but was rehabilitated and extended by the Ski Tourers Association (now the AAC) in 1956. Photo 4 shows Pounds Creek Hut in its original condition, whilst later in this installment we will describe its deterioration in the 1940's and refurbishment in the 1950's.

AAC 3-04 Pounds Hut SYB28These two huts were completed in time for the 1926 ski season. Preliminary trips were made to assess the various approaches to Tin Hut under winter conditions. Following a preliminary examination of the possible Snowy River crossings between Perisher and Spencers Creeks, the direct route between the Hotel Kosciusko and Tin Hut was reconnoitred on 3 August 1926 on ponies as far as Reid's Hut and then on skis to Tin Hut. The scarcity of snow for several miles on either side of the Snowy River crossing at Island Bend made this only a short line of retreat from the Main Range in case of emergency, but not a part of the route for the ski trip between the Hotel Kosciusko and Kiandra.

 

 

AAC 3-05 YB 1928 Betts CampOn 7 August 1926, Dr Schlink and five companions set out from the Hotel Kosciusko (Photo 1) to attempt the over-snow trip to Kiandra, overnighting at Betts Camp on the Mt Kosciuszko Summit Road (Photo 5). The next day dawned fine and they headed down Spencers Creek to the Snowy River, which was open, with only one extremely thin ice bridge a short distance upstream, which was cautiously crossed (had Illawong's bridge over the Snowy existed then, it would have saved much valuable time). They then climbed up Pounds Creek on their skis and skirted around Mt Tate to Consett Stephen Pass.
AAC 3-06 Crammed into Tin HutThey avoided the bad ice on the summit of the Main Range, but got into some rugged country below the tree line, whilst heading for White's Valley and Tin Hut.From the head of Whites River they had to climb over one of the spurs running north from Gungartan because Tin Hut was in a saddle on the northeastern side of that peak. Before they could catch a glimpse of Tin Hut they were enveloped in fog, but picked their way down slowly and only just managed to stop when the ski tips of the leading skier were found to be balancing on the edge of a huge cornice. The fog lifted momentarily to reveal the Tin Hut right in front of them on the other side of the valley. A few more minutes of skiing, then they crammed into the small hut (Photo 6) as night fell.

Inside Tin Hut Photo6 [Ski Year Book, 1928]
AAC 3-07 Party outside Tin HutThey lit a fire as a blizzard closed in. The hut quickly filled with smoke and remained that way for the three nights and days that the blizzard raged outside. Then the weather improved sufficiently for them to take a group photo outside the hut during a short break in the weather (Photo 7). They then used the emergency direct route to get back to the Hotel Kosciusko, since the bad weather showed no signs of clearing up. Dr Schlink resolved to defer the trip until the following year and to attempt it from the Kiandra end. The map shows how the availability of huts allowed the trip to be done in three days.

 


 

AAC 3-08 Kiandra 1898

 

Kiandra – the Starting Point for Schlink's Second Attempt

AAC 3-Map Kiandra to Kosci When the 1927 expedition team of Herbert Schlink, Bill Gordon, John Laidly and Eric Fisher traveled to Kiandra on 27 July 1927 from the Hotel Kosciusko, they had to ski the last 8 miles into Kiandra, due to the depth of snow that was blocking the Kiandra Road, now known as the Snowy Mountains Highway. Following the mining in the 1860's of the rich alluvial gold deposits that adjoined the town, Kiandra continued for another 80 years as a gold mining centre, servicing several small mines up to twenty miles from the town. There were 270 men employed on the local goldfields in 1900 but this had declined to 22 miners by the early 1920's.

AAC 3-09 Young Skiers 1895It is thought that the first skis were used at Kiandra during the 1860 winter although the first newspaper reference to skiing was in the Monaro Mercury of 29 July 1861. Kiandra remained a skiing township with a school, church, hotel, post office and court house, until the town gradually closed down, beginning with the school closing in 1924 and ending with the closure of the Kiandra Chalet during the late 1970's. Skiing on the locally made wooden skis was a feature of Kiandra as it was very difficult to traverse the thick snow cover without them (Photo 8). Children went to school on skis (Photo 9).
AAC 3-10 Kiandra Hotelier 1928They were met in Kiandra by Mr Jeffries, the proprietor of the Alpine Hotel (shown on his Kiandra "Snow Shoes" in Photo 10) and by the fifth expedition member, Bill Hughes, a Kiandra miner, who had skied over much of the terrain to be covered on the first day of the trip. The following brief account is based on Herbert Schlink's description of the successful expedition that was published in the 1928 Ski Year Book.

AAC 3-11 Nine mile hut Schlink CrossingThey left Kiandra the next morning, in brilliant sunshine and with frost crystals covering the hard-frozen snow. An immediate climb up Township Hill brought them to the Main Divide and they then followed the track to the Nine Mile Hut (Photo 11) with occasional views of Mt. Jagungal, located mid-way between Kiandra and Mt. Kosciuszko. They lunched at Temperance Creek, 12 miles from Kiandra and ascended the steep, snowless north side of Bolton's Hill before skiing down its south side and wading across the waist-deep, turbulent Happy Jack River (Photo 12). Much of the terrain was timbered, usually with enough space between the trees to provide pleasant "wood runs" (Photo 13).

AAC 3-12 Happy Jacks River XingAAC 3-13 South of Kiandra

 

AAC 3-14 Schlink at Farm RidgeThey were very tired when they arrived at Farm Ridge Hut (Photo 14) at 7pm and it took them until 11pm to prepare and cook their meal. They had covered 25 miles "in rugged and difficult country, with plenty of wood running, steep slopes and some breakable crust".
AAC 3-15 Med res Mt. Jagungal from NorthA hasty breakfast and an early start found them traveling on the Jagungal foothills. Schlink commented "it is impossible to imagine a better ski-ing ground than these hills afford . I predict a great future for the snowfields of Farm Ridge and the watershed of the Tumut River, especially that part that takes origin on the northern aspect of Jagungal spur. It is hard to do justice to the magnificence and grandeur of Mount Jagungal, a most characteristic Australian peak, with its crouching–lion form sparkling and blazing with its diamond studded mantle of snow". Mt. Jagungal can be seen (from the north) on the skyline in Photo 15, with the head of the imagined, crouching-lion almost in the centre, the body and back legs on the left and the front legs stretched out on the right-hand side.

AAC 3-16 Fog over M  RangeThey traversed around the eastern end of "Jagungal spur" (which runs east from Mt. Jagungal) and around the headwaters of the Geehi River, before reaching the crest of the Main Range near the Bulls Peaks; crossing en route, the old Kalkite Road (marked by snow poles) that headed west to the Grey Mares Mines. Passing cup and saucer hill, they followed the valley of the Valentine River upstream to its source and then on to the Tin Hut at about 1pm. There they had lunch and a break, having covered 15 miles in about five hours. They lightened their packs by leaving their "sleeping bags and all extra weight in the form of food, etc., and made the final dash for Pounds' Hut, from which we can get home in any weather. Slowly and with frequent stops, for our muscles are feeling the strain, we climbed to the top of Gungartan (6,776 feet)" and ran down to the saddle at the head of White's River. About 25 years later, the Snowy Mountains Authority named this saddle "Schlink Pass" in recognition of Dr Herbert Schlink's role as a skiing pioneer.

The expedition continued along the Main Range on the crest of the Granite Peaks. "Then all of a sudden the old god of the mountain makes us understand that he is not to be conquered so easily, and envelopes us in a blanket of fog which robs us of all sense of distance and hides from us such well known landmarks as the Perisher, Mount Tate and Gills Knobs." Photo No. 16, taken from Tate East Ridge, shows a typical late-afternoon fog (with a clear sky above) rolling over the Main Range at Pounds Creek.

AAC 3-17 Schlink at Pipers Gap"We must feel our way along to the Consett Stephen Pass, that landmark which will lead us to the Guthega River, the Snowy and home." The last part of the run down the Guthega River was done in the dark but their progress was helped by the Snowy River being frozen over, "no stripping and paddling in the frozen, turbulent stream" and they followed it upstream to the hut. "Five tired men drop into Pounds Hut (35 miles in 12.5 hours), eat like wolves, throw themselves on the spring mattresses and sleep until 11 o'clock next morning. Next day 15 miles home, with luncheon at Bett's Camp seems child's play." A group photo (Photo No. 17) was taken after lunch as they neared the Hotel Kosciusko and journey's end.
 

 


AAC 3-18 Pounds & Spencer Creeks Tin Hut 1Pounds Creek Hut provided Frank Leyden with overnight shelter on 22 August 1945, after his group skied down the Tate East Ridge to the Snowy. His diary records that the hut was in good condition with 6 beds and five mattresses. The fire effectively heated the hut. There were 5 chairs with backs, 2 good tables, billies and some cutlery. Photo 18 shows the vast extent of ideal skiing terrain serviced by the hut, which cannot be seen in the photo, but is about 5km from where the photo was taken.
AAC 3-19 Pounds Creek Hut viewWhen Frank returned next ski season (7 August 1946), the hut was almost uninhabitable, with melting snow in the ceiling cavity dripping water onto the mattresses, beds and floor, where it had refrozen. The many blizzards in 1946 must have been blown snow under the roofing iron and into the hut's ceiling cavity. The hut's frame and cladding were intact (Photos 19 & 20).
AAC 3-20 Pounds Creek Hut 1955The interior of Pounds Creek Hut remained in a dilapidated state until the Kosciusko State Park Trust in 1955, approved of Pounds Creek Hut being incorporated into the larger Illawong Lodge which John Turner and the Ski Tourers Association proposed to build on that site. The lodge had to be built without the benefit of motor vehicle access. A dam had been built on the Snowy River at Guthega (it is just visible in the background of Photo 20) which meant that anything that was too big to fit into a rucksack, had to come by boat to the upstream shore of the man-made lake.
AAC 3-21 Leon and ToiletBuilding materials could then either be manhandled the remaining 1.2km to the Illawong site (Photo 21), or placed on a horse-drawn sled. "The manager of the Chalet at Charlottes Pass offered the services of Mick, who was a most suitable horse indeed, except that it was usually necessary to find Mick, catch him, bridle him and get him over quite rough country to Illawong before starting to make use of him. In the end, about half the materials were sledded in and half were carried. Nor was the sledding without incident. Mick had two speeds – stop and run. Sometimes no amount of coaxing would move him; at other times he was off like a shot with his driver struggling to keep up and prevent the sled from overturning." [Twenty-One Years of the AAC, 1971]

AAC 3-22 Leon Charlie at Guthega DamThe boat trips across the stored waters of Guthega Dam were also not without incident. Photo 22 shows Leon Smith and Charles Anton at Guthega Dam with the Jumping Trout I, the boat which helped so much in the construction of Illawong. Photo 23 shows Jumping Trout I being loaded. Photo 24, which was taken at the Illawong Lodge unloading point, looking back towards Guthega Dam, gives some idea of the length of the over-water journey.

"Every kind of watery disaster short of drowning, occurred sooner or later. Once, a flood spread timber, mattresses and oil drums from one end of the dam to the other. Boats, all of them called 'Jumping Trout', were occasionally swamped or capsized. One was lost in a flood and not recovered until a year later, when the dam was emptied; another took off in a high wind and landed on the opposite bank – intact! This same boat, the Jumping Trout III, finally came to grief when a 44-gallon drum of petrol hurtled down a steep bank, landed amidships and went through the bottom, leaving a drum-shaped hole, as in a comic cartoon."AAC 3-23 Loading jumping troutAAC 3-24 Boat on dam

AAC 3-25 Illawong July 1957"In spite of the set-backs, Illawong was completed in less than two years to a standard which, in 1957, equalled the best in the mountains. It had its own water supply, septic tank and electric lighting. There was an automatic hot water service, gas cooking, refrigerator, drying room, innerspring mattresses and even carpets." (Photo 25 shows Illawong in July 1957).
AAC 3-26 Illawong Bridge Scan0070The members laid a snow-pole line to Guthega, and built a flying fox over Farm Creek and a bridge over the Snowy River. The first bridge was partially destroyed by a flood in 1958. The current bridge, a superb, galvanized steel structure with minimal visual impact, was designed by Tim Lamble (Photo 26).

AAC 3-27 Twynam WestIllawong provides easy access via the valley of Pounds Creek to some outstanding runs on the western faces of the Main Range (Photo 27 shows part of Twynam West Spur in the late afternoon), whilst having negligible environmental impact. Wombats graze in the spring on grass in Illawong's wind scour (Photos 28 and 29). In Photo 29 a very young wombat looks out from its mother's pouch at the Illawong grass.

AAC 3-28 med res  Grazing wombat at IllawongAAC 3-29 Med res  Baby Wombat at Illawong