BOGONG WINTER SKI EXPLORATIONS 1927 & 1928

AAC 4-22 Kellys Hut YB28 p175 Scan0031 

 

AAC 4-19 Razorback take 2 Gilchrist Scan0037Parties of four to five skiers, lead by Mr W.F. Waters, undertook two winter ski exploration trips across the Bogong High Plains culminating in an ascent of the Mount Bogong massif containing Victoria's highest peak. These historic ski tours were first reported in articles written by Mr. Waters for the Ski Club of Victoria's Year Books and then reproduced in the Australian Ski Year Books for 1928 and 1929. Mount Bogong (1986m altitude) had not yet been climbed on skis when the first exploration tour was made in August 1927. "The proposed ten days' tour was to commence at Harrietville, with the ascent of Mount Feathertop, thence to Mount Hotham, via the Razorback, and thence across the Bogong High Plains to Glen Wills and Omeo, and to include a trip to Mount Fainter, and an attempt to ascend Mount Bogong if circumstances permitted – the total distance to be covered on ski being about seventy miles" (113 km).

They found that the snow line was well down into the valleys and were able to don their skis within a couple of miles of Harrietville as they headed the 5.5 miles (9 km) up the Bungalow Spur on a fine afternoon. Arriving at the Bungalow in moonlight, they found it to be unoccupied and snowed in. They had to gain entrance by burrowing a tunnel under the roof of the back verandah. The next morning they climbed to the top of Mount Feathertop (1922m altitude) and enjoyed the magnificent 360 degree view under a clear sky.

It started snowing overnight and by morning visibility was only about 40 yards (about 35 m) due to the fog that accompanied the falling snow. The fog became denser as they began heading along the razorback towards Mount Hotham. Photo 19, taken from the Great Alpine Road looking towards Mount Feathertop, shows the steep slopes running off both sides of the Razorback. This is definitely not the place to be trying to find one's way in fog. They returned to Harrietville and followed the road "to Mount St. Bernard, from whence, if stormy conditions continued, we could follow the line of telegraph poles to Mount Hotham. The road for fully ten miles to the Hospice was under snow and gave continuous skiing, whereas in a normal winter the snow line is said to be not more than four miles from the Hospice."

AAC 4-20 Tawonga YB 28 p 173 Scan0030They left the Hospice the next day and headed for Hotham Heights in glorious sunshine. In the late afternoon there was a wonderful view over the nearer snow-clad peaks of the Victorian Alps from Mount Hotham, but a fog crawled up out of the valleys and hid all peaks but the top of Feathertop. A blizzard developed during the night which detained them at Hotham Heights for two more days. The weather cleared on the second afternoon and there was brilliant moonlight overnight.

In bright sunshine they headed for Blair's Hut, where lunch was had and then on to Tawonga Hut which involved a 2,000 feet climb (600m) and which was reached just after dark. Mr. Waters wrote, "We anticipated that there would be a lot of snow around it, but were not prepared for conditions as we found them. It was completely covered, and only about two feet of the chimney was visible above the snow. It was impossible to burrow down to the doorway, so we entered via the chimney" (Photo 20). They had covered about 11 miles (18 km) that day.

AAC 4-21 Kelly Hut Hull p14 Scan0009The following morning was fine and they set out to cover the 11 miles (18 km) to Kelly's Hut in strong sunshine which made the snow sticky requiring them to wax their skis on three occasions. "The journey across was a pleasant succession of long runs and occasional climbs. All the creeks were completely covered by snow and ice. Many of the eight feet (2.4 m) snow poles were hidden, but the average depth of snow on the plains appeared to be about five feet"(1.5 m). They skied past Fitzgerald's Hut to Kelly's Hut (Photo 21), which was almost snowed in, when they arrived late in the day.
 

AAC 4-23 Bogong Map YB28 p177 Scan0032Time had run out and their hopes of climbing Mount Bogong had to be deferred to another visit, owing to the lack of time. About nine inches of snow fell overnight. The next morning they skied in overcast weather (Photo 22) to the snow line and then walked about six miles (10 km) to the Big River Bridge, where a car was waiting to take them to Omeo and then on to Melbourne.

The same party of four met at Kelly's Hut one year later, on 12 August 1928, to wait for a break in the weather so that they could climb Mount Bogong in clear weather along their chosen, but unmarked, route. Dense fog and high winds confined them to the immediate vicinity of the hut for four days. A start was made on the 17th, which broke fine and clear.

Their route took them seven miles over the summit of Mount Nelse, with its views of Kosciusko and Jagungal to the north-east, then onto Timm’s Lookout (about 1800m altitude), with its panoramic view of Mount Bogong (Photo 23). The black line marks their approximate route out of the Big River Valley and up to the summit, which is marked by a cross on the photo.

AAC 4-24 Big River YB29 p153 Scan0034Mount Bogong is, unfortunately, not connected to the Bogong High Plains. The Big River has cut a gorge several hundred metres deep that cuts off Mount Bogong from the Bogong High Plains. Even if skiers and walkers take a major detour to the west from Mount Nelse North, so as to skirt around the headwaters of the Big River by remaining on the ridge crests, there is the Bogong Creek Saddle at less than 1500m altitude, on the undulating ridge crest linking Mount Bogong with the Spion Kopje Spur at the north end of the Bogong High Plains. Waters and his party believed that the most direct and fastest route involved dropping down a ridge below Timm’s Lookout (1800 m altitude) into the deep gorge of the Big River and crossing it at about 1150 m altitude. They had discovered a river flat suitable for pitching a tent there, during a summer walking tour. Since the ridges facing Mount Bogong below Timms Spur also face north and since 1928 was a lean year for snow, the skiers had to carry their skis for much of the 650 m descent to the Big River. They pitched their tent on this river flat as night fell (Photo 24).

They were awoken at dawn next morning by the “wonderful mimicry” of the lyre birds, that had several dancing mounds in the scrub close to the tent. The tent and their heavy camping equipment remained on the flat, as they intended getting back to the Big River before dark that night.

AAC 4- 25 Crampons Bogong Take 3  YB29 p151 Scan0033The first 150 m up out of the gorge were very steep with no snow cover. The snow line was then encountered and skis could be used on the long, steep climb. The tree line was reached at about 1580 m altitude. Mr. Waters wrote, “For the next 500 feet” (150 m ascent) “the spur was very steep, and knife-edged; on the western side sheer cliffs dropping into a head of the Kiewa River, and on the east side a very steep and long slope, down to the Big River. The snow there was crusted and icy, and several nasty side-slips necessitated the use of crampons.” (Photo 25). The toe irons of the bindings are firmly attached to the skis whilst the heel is free to lift as part of the striding motion. The crampons appear to be attached to the skis so that they grip whenever the skier’s heel comes down onto the ski after the ski has been slid forward. Note that the rear skier in Photo 25 has his rear heel lifted as he slides the rear ski forward. The crampons can be seen attached under the ski at the point on which the skier’s heel will press at the end of each step.

“The weather up till then had been perfect, but we saw with dismay that far above on the Summit, thick fog was blowing over and we feared that our chances of obtaining a clear view from Victoria’s most commanding viewpoint were likely to be lost. While still a mile from the Summit, fog again descended, and we had to bunch together to keep in touch.”

The cairn on the Summit of Mount Bogong was reached at 12.30pm, just as the fog lifted completely, the ascent having taken four hours. “All the higher peaks of the Victorian Alps were plainly visible, but all showed patches bare of snow unusually high up for that time of the winter. On Buffalo scarcely any snow could be seen.”

After a stay on the summit of 75 minutes, they skied down the route they had ascended. “The steep descent of the razor-backed spur provided a few mild thrills, with sheer cliffs on one fall and steep slopes on the other.” In three and a half hours from the Summit they were back in camp on the Big River. Some rain fell over night and they broke camp early to cover as much distance as possible before the weather deteriorated further. After a quick glimpse of Bogong from Timm’s Lookout, they covered the seven miles (11 km) back to Kelly’s Hut in good time, with “nothing worse than several heavy showers of stinging sleet”. The following day they skied to the snow line and then walked out to the Big River Bridge and traveled back to Melbourne.

Note: The modern Alpine Walking Track to Mount Bogong via the Cleve Cole Hut, crosses the Big River at about 1050 m altitude, even further downstream than where Mr. Waters and his companions camped in 1928.