SOME KIANDRA – KOSCIUSKO CROSSINGS 1928-1960

Bill Hughes, Bill Gordon, Lennox Teece and Ashleigh Davy made the second known crossing in 1929. Starting from Kiandra, they headed for the Elaine Mine and overnighted in the Elaine Hut. Departing at about 2 am, they skied around the eastern side of Tabletop Mountain and tracked some kilometres east of Boobee Hut, through territory not then served by any huts, until in mid-afternoon they arrived at Tin Hut and spent the night there. The journey to the hotel was completed by travelling via the Rolling Grounds, Guthega River, Mount Perisher and then following the road to the Hotel Kosciusko. Most subsequent crossings followed this route to avoid the Happy Jacks Gorge south-west of Tabletop Mountain.

Hueneke (1987) reproduces Jean Moppett's account of another Kiandra to Hotel Kosciusko crossing made in 1936 with Oliver Moriarty and Tom Moppett. Oliver Moriarty "had been over the country from Kiandra to Kosciusko during the summer, and had left dried foods in some of the huts on the way, in preparation for our journey. In addition to our ordinary equipment, we carried bread and meat and rations, for which we were thankful, because on two occasions we didn't make the huts, and had to camp out in the snow. . . . When we set out from Kiandra I was carrying a pack weighing about 30 lb (14 kg) and the two men's packs weighing about 45 lb (20 kg) each. "

"We left Bogong (O'Keefes) Hut one morning and set out to climb Mount Jagungal, the highest mountain between Kiandra and Kosciusko, which is usually avoided by skiing parties. So far as I know, I am the only woman who has ever climbed it in winter. We got about a quarter of the way up, but found the blizzard far too strong to allow us to go any further, so we had to retrace our steps to the hut. The next day dawned just as badly, but at midday it was possible for us to leave again. Although the wind was strong and the visibility not good, we were able to climb to the top – about two hours journey from the hut. We were glad to use specially prepared sealskins, which we placed under our skis to give a better grip. These skins are only used for climbing. Once we had reached about two-thirds of the distance up, we were completely enveloped in clouds like a thick fog but, with the aid of a compass and Mr Moriarty's previous knowledge of the country, we were able, by careful maneuvering, to reach the top. Then we skied down the other side and across the rolling hills to Mawsons hut, arriving there at about 6pm.

"We were snowbound there for three days, the weather being so bad that we couldn't go out, so we sat in front of the fire and read. During the trip we twice had to dig our way into the huts, as they were completely snowed-up."

Jean Moppett then described their travelling in a blizzard with driving snow down the valley of the Whites River and wading across the Snowy River to camp overnight on its bank and to have their packs "frozen hard like boards". Next day they reached the Hotel Kosciusko to Chalet road and split up. Oliver Moriarty skied to the Chalet, whilst Jean and Tom skied to the Hotel. Jean wrote "If I had the time to make the Kiandra-Kosciusko trip again I would do so, even if I had to go through all the blizzard. It was the best holiday I have had and, although it was very tiring, I felt better afterwards than I had ever felt."

The vulnerability of ski tourers to the unexpected onset of blizzard conditions was underlined by the experiences of the July 1954 crossing party consisting of Keith Field, Douglass Baglin and Paul Reader. Paul Reader's account in the 1955 Australian Ski Year Book, does not describe the weather conditions for their departure from Kiandra Chalet (on the morning of July 4). Their initial route apparently was along the Tabletop Mountain Track which heads south through subalpine snow-gum woodlands. They appear to have left the Tabletop Mountain Track before it crosses the Happy Jacks River on the Happy Jacks Plain at about 1420m altitude, where the riverbanks are only a few metres high. Their crossing point was about 4km west of Schlink Route (which is shown by the continuous black line in Map No.1).

The Snowy Mountains Authority's (SMA) contract to build the Happy Jacks Dam and the Eucumbene – Tumut Tunnel had been let in April 1954, after two years of SMA investigations along the proposed tunnel route, which crossed under the Happy Jacks River. Major construction work was due to start in November 1954. As part of these investigations, a 4WD track was developed along the crest of the ridge that heads west from Tabletop Mountain to the Boltons Hill Hut, a small shelter hut on the rim of the Happy Jacks gorge, that existed in the 1950's and 1960's for members of the SMA field investigation team, which included surveyors, geologists and engineers.

Paul Reader's party may have come across ski tracks or vehicle tracks in the snow and followed them to the edge of the Happy Jacks Gorge near Boltons Hill Hut, at a location where the Happy Jacks River at an altitude of about 1200m, flows over rapids in a gorge about 250m deep, with very steep (70 degree) walls, covered with large areas of rock scree. Their crossing site was in very rough country near Junction Shaft, south-west of Tabletop Mountain.

There was insufficient snow for the party to be able to ski down the steep slope to the bank of the Happy Jacks River and all took nasty falls as they scrambled down the scree slope in their ski boots, carrying their skis and packs. They set up camp on a large slab of rock on the river bank. It snowed overnight and was still snowing when Baglin, Field and Reader swam across the flooded Happy Jacks River the next morning (July 5). The width of the fast-flowing river was 16m and it took them 3 hours to float all their gear across it. All three men became victims of frost-bite and a fire was lit on the river bank to dry out their gear and thaw out their bodies.

For three days the visibility never exceeded about 400m due to the snow storm. On the fourth day (July 8) they emerged onto a plateau from which they could see Mt. Jagungal in the distance and accurately fix their location for the first time since July 4. They reached the summit of Mt. Jagungal on the morning of July 11 and arrived at Guthega late in the evening of July 12, after having experienced an additional navigation problem that led them to overnight (July 11) in a hut which they had mistakenly thought to be Kidman's Hut, but was actually Tin Hut (nearly 7km from Kidman's Hut).

The July 1954 Kiandra to Kosciusko Crossing Party showed that one needs more than a compass and a map to safely negotiate a poorly marked route in bad weather. At least one member of the group needs to have gained a good knowledge of the route and its landmarks from one or more previous visits.