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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

The ultimate backcountry festival guide

The second Victorian backcountry festival will happen at Mt Hotham over the weekend of September 7 and 8.

Here is a summary of what’s happening:

Highlights of the program

  • Meet at 8.30am on Saturday morning, upstairs at The General Store (just next to the Big D lift) for the festival opening.
  • Most tours start Saturday am.
  • Speaker’s program will run Upstairs at The General Store from 12 noon – 4pm. Great line up of speakers.
  • The outdoor bar will happen from 4 – 6pm on the Saturday, straight after the conclusion of the speakers program.
  • Kick on Saturday night at Blizzard Brewery at Dinner Plain.
  • Tours continue on Sunday.
  • Finish the weekend with a Protect Our Winters info night and films at The Bird in Hotham Central on sunday night.

[Full details are in the program]

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Backcountry events 2019

In all parts of the skiing and snowboarding world, interest in the backcountry – those areas outside the sections of resorts serviced by lifts – continues to grow.

While backcountry is still a ‘niche’ thing, advances in gear technology and a range of guided tours and safety courses are making it easier for resort skiers/ riders to travel out of bounds, and the backcountry community continues to grow.

Here are a few of the backcountry themed events and opportunities I’m aware are happening this winter.

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‘The cure for depression is action’

In March this year, I sat on the summit of one of my favourite hills, Mt Blowhard, and watched the fires just to the south, which were in the Dargo River valley and burning up onto the Dargo High Plains. Already a mosaic of burnt and reburnt forest, now characterised by the grey trunks of burnt trees, I knew that this would be another wave of impact on these mountain forests. Some parts of north east VIC have now burnt more than three times in a bit over a decade. Scientists warn about the loss of alpine ash and snow gum if the frequency of fire continues to increase.

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Cable car public meeting

Mount Wellington Cableway Company (MWCC) want to build a cablecar up the face of kunanyi/ Mt Wellington, in Hobart. This is being resisted by a determined community based campaign. MWCC have organised two public meetings for South Hobart residents and then cancelled them at the last minute. South Hobart Progress Association have therefore decided to organise their own meeting – focusing on the impact 180,000 extra cars a year will have on South Hobart residents. It will happen on August 24. All welcome.

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‘Eternal vigilance is the price of Freedom’

Tasmania has a world class conservation system. From the South West Wilderness to the Central Plateau, to the Ben Lomond tablelands, it is brimming with wonderful landscapes that are protected as national parks, world heritage or other forms of park. But these parks didn’t just happen. All of them are the result of tireless work by many thousands of people, sometimes over decades.

From the attempts to stop Lake Pedder from being flooded in the 1970s, the Franklin River campaign of the early 1980s, and the long forest campaigns that followed in places like the Styx, the Florentine, Lemonthyme, and the Great Western Tiers, through to the current attempts to ensure proper protection for the Tarkine / takayna region in the north west, people have campaigned for decades to see these areas protected for all time.

Climate change poses an existential threat to many of the natural ecosystems currently protected in the park network. But there is also a pushback by government and some vested interests and sections of the community against the basic notion of protecting these places.

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Australia’s largest avalanche on record?

Mountain Sports Collective (MSC) is reporting a large avalanche on the Etheridge Ridge in the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains and other avalanche activity in the area, including Leatherbarrell Creek. A person was caught in the main slide and partially buried, but was uninjured. This highlights the need to be very mindful of conditions in the backcountry at present.

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Tourism: Is more always better?

In New South Wales, the number of visits to the state’s national parks is topping more than 60 million for the first time. This is great news for regional economies – these visits generated as much as $21.35 billion in spending. It also puts pressure on our national parks and other natural areas. This highlights the need for governments to provide adequate funds for the upkeep of our parks and to manage the impacts of ever more visitors on the natural systems in the parks.

There is an interesting program underway in Colorado, which is seeking to decentralise the visitation of tourists rather than encourage more people to visit. Colorado is a huge tourism destination and this generates enormous income. However, it also causes problems for roads, resorts, national parks and local residents. In 2017, the Colorado Tourism Roadmap transformed the state’s call to encourage more tourists to visit into a more focused campaign promoting sustainable travel experiences.

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Documenting Tasmania’s threatened Gondwana vegetation

Fires burnt large areas of Tasmania last summer. A recent independent review of fire fighting efforts found there had been some errors in how fires were tackled, but there were also innovative developments (like using sprinkler systems to fire sensitive vegetation).

We know that significant areas of fire sensitive vegetation were impacted by the fires. We also know that climate change will bring ever more serious fire seasons, putting these remnant vegetation communities at greater risk.

A group of people have banded together to make a film about this endangered vegetation. They say the ‘Tasmanian Gondwana film aims to raise awareness of the extraordinary value and beauty of Tasmania’s unique paleo-endemic communities. It comes in the wake of the 2016 and 2019 wildfires in western Tasmania that threatened and burnt large areas of ancient Gondwanan vegetation’.

They have launched a crowd fund campaign to enable the film to be produced.

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NSW Parliament to debate the impacts of feral horses

IT’S A PARK, NOT A PADDOCK!

On Thursday August 22 the NSW Parliament will debate the impacts of feral horses on Kosciuszko National Park.

More than 12,000 people signed the petition calling for this debate and it’s now going to happen!

The Parliament will debate repealing the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act and repairing the damage caused by hard-hooved animals. Reclaim Kosci is asking people to join them on the day to show support for this parliamentary debate.

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Independent review of the management of 2018/19 Tasmanian fires

Over the summer of 2018/19 huge fires burnt across Tasmania. An independent review of Tasmania’s management of the summer bushfires has just been released. It found inadequacies in the response to a fire burning near Geeveston, and revealed that crews withdrew from the Gell River fire in Tasmania’s southwest in the mistaken belief it was out. The fire then expanded again and became out of control.

It makes a series of recommendations for the fire services and government, including a proposal to re-establish a volunteer remote area firefighter group. The report, from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) also gives an update on the ecological impacts of the fires. An earlier ecological assessment is here.

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Snow! Be careful out there.

It’s being billed as the best single snow event of the winter. Regardless of the title or hype, its certainly a fantastic dump across all the mountains of the mainland and Tasmania.

But it has also led to serious avalanche potential. Here is a summary of the current (AUG 9) Mountain Sports Collective backcountry conditions bulletin.

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Lets Split trip to Dead Horse Gap

Lets Split is a volunteer based initiative, designed to expand and strengthen the Australian Splitboard community.  We are a group of experienced SplitBoarders, who invite others to join us touring in the backcountry – hoping that the important skills needed for safe backcountry travel can pass into the younger generation of riders who are perhaps less experienced than us.

Here is a report from Lets Split founder Amine Yasmine on their recent trip to Dead Horse Gap in the Snowy Mountains.

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