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Trip Report – Blue Lake Trip

By: Mingma Sherpa

Source: Australian Section Newsletter (September 2018)

The first Australian Section trip to Blue Lake for 2018 had good interest with over 15 members expressing interest. The final trip count of eleven was a solid number, with members making the trip from Tasmania, Melbourne and Queensland for the weekend. Although the intention was for ice climbing, minimal climbing was done as the weather had other ideas, thus the trip could have been renamed to a winter survival camp. The forecast, which proved to be accurate, was for a large front to pass over on the weekend, to bring snow, strong winds and poor visibility.

Friday the 17th of August drew a clear and still morning, perfect for a leisurely pack and repack of gear. A group of seven including Shaun Baxter, Keith Weymouth, Josh Atkinson, Peter Mason, Greg Watts, Tabian White and myself met at the Guthega Village. By 10:30am the first four and myself had left Guthega in the direction of Illawong Bridge, with Greg and Tabian to follow shortly after. Two other pairs of Ulyana Lisovik and Nestor Woodhart, who planned on arriving a day after on Saturday and Alex Motyka and Eliya Khoury were planning on arriving Sunday.

Smiles were to be had all around, as three sleds were in tow, behind Shaun, who was sharing a load with Keith, Josh and myself. The first obstacle, being the footbridge at Blue Cow Creek was navigated easily, although the following angled terrain through the trees before the open Illawong planes proved a test piece, mostly for the sled haulers. Slowly we made our way and regrouped at Illawong Bridge, where we met Australian Mountaineer Andrew Lock, who was ski touring for a few days in the area.

After a snowfall two days prior, a good cover of snow helped us make our way upwards. From Illawong Bridge we followed a spur that led us to cross over the Twynam Creek multiple times. Our designated campsite being in a region North East of Little Twynam. This camp site was selected to give quick and easy access to Blue Lake over the Twynam Saddle.

After three hours snowshoeing and skinning uphill, as we neared the Northern side of Little Twynam, visibility was reducing and winds picking up, so we decided on a gentle snow slope that provided reasonable shelter from the wind.

Shovels out, digging begun. Tent sites flattened, snow walls built and camp set up. We all settled in for an early night. Greg and Tabian decided to make camp lower, in the tree line, as the afternoon was closing up as they had a late start.

On Saturday morning, decisions were made to not visit Blue Lake due to the poor visibility and strong winds, so the team of five settled in for a camp day, which involved lots of digging. An Igloo turn snow cave was developed, and by 3pm after a solid day by all, we were inside and enjoying being in the silent comfort of the snow cave out of the elements. Big enough to stand up in and seating for a comfortable six, we talked, drank and ate in comfort while the snow fell outside.

The MSR liquid fuel stoves were banned from inside use, as they were more consistent in making the cave smell like a petrol station than melting snow. Two were brought along but a mystery failure of Shaun and Keith’s MSR left mine running for many hours. Peter brought the efficient MSR Windburner, which was left hanging from the roof of the cave and was defiantly a winner for the trip.

After early dinners, we settled in for another night. The plan being to see what the weather brought in the morning. As the snow fell during the night, Peter and Josh woke to clear snow from around tents.

By the morning, a powdery 50cm of snow had fallen in the area around camp. Spirits were high as for a few hours the clouds were intermittently clearing. The initial plan for the day was to locate the two parties camped lower, so Shaun and I skied down, while Keith clipped together his split board to slide down in the fresh snow. A great run was had from camp down to the Snowy River, along the way meeting the groups of Ulyana and Nestor and Greg and Tabian. Ulyana and Nestor were in the process of packing and were to join the main group up at the Little Twynam camp, but Greg and Tabian were keen to stay put. After the heavy snowfall Greg’s tent had collapsed, resulting in a comfortable night for the two sharing Tabian’s tent. On visiting Greg and Tabian’s camp, Shaun, Keith and I welcomed the hospitality of warm coffee, muesli bars and twiggy sticks. We hung around until the cold started to set in and then head off skinning uphill to meet and show Ulyanan and Nestor the way to camp.

Sunday night had seven at Little Twynam camp. Alex and Eliya were planning on a day trip Monday from Guthega to Blue Lake and return. As the day progressed, the wind turned into a South Westerly and picked up strength. The change in wind direction caused quite a problem for our camp. Before bed, tents were dug out but it was less than two hours before we were all up again digging our tents from underneath the windblown spindrift. A call for help from Peter, who woke just before he set his alarm for another dig, realised that his tent was completely snowed over. Josh was on hand to assist in digging out his access. A sleepless night for all, as most tents required digging every two hours until the wind settled at 3am.

Monday morning broke fine, with a beautiful sun rise, light winds and a Sundog Rainbow. Alex and Eliya left Guthega early, and made good time to pass through the Little Twynam camp at 8:30am. After a sleepless night, everyone was packing up to head out to Guthega a day early. The fine weather made it all the much easier.

On the first fine weather day, Alex, Eliya and myself climbed three ice routes at Blue Lake. Top ropes being set up, but Alex and Eliya also managed a strong lead each. Once packed up, Ulyana and Nestor came for a snow shoe tour from camp, over and around Blue Lake, checked out the climbing and then back over Little Twynam. The three climbers packed up and left the ice crag at 2pm to make a speedy trip back to Guthega.

By Monday afternoon, everyone had returned safely and were on their journeys home.

The weather was poor, with little climbing getting done. This is always a risk with setting dates in advance. Australian mountaineers are common to this, as most would have experienced this on prior trips to the Main Range and New Zealand. There was benefit in refreshing of navigating and alpine survival skills, of which all members were competent. There was also the team work, as for the three nights we were out, we came together as members of a club but left as members of a team who endured some of the poor conditions that a winters night on the main range can offer. Thanks for all those who attended and for everyone returning safely.

As a side note, to make use of the excellent weather in the days after the trip, Shaun Baxter, Keith Weymouth and I met at Blue Lake on Wednesday the 22nd for an excellent days ice climbing.

Posted: 11/09/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland