Photo:The Sentinel, by James Morrow, OZBC.net
The western slopes of the Main Range in the Snowy Mountains are the premier backcountry ski and boarding destination in Australia.
And while people have been riding out there since at least the 1940s, the slopes have been getting a lot of coverage in recent years.
While the classic book is still Skiing the Western Faces of Kosciusko, by Alan Andrews, there are lots of other reports and even films coming out about skiing and boarding these impressive slopes. John Blankenstein has written a number of great trip reports from the Slopes, and Nic Rivers recently released a short film, called Find Your Line, of John snow boarding Watsons Crag.
There’s a brilliant front cover story in the current edition of Transfer magazine, the upcoming Roof of Oz film project, and a number of other magazines have covered the western faces. Stephen Curtains classic telemark film, Winter Dreaming, has a lot of action from Little Austria and other sections of the Slopes.
No matter which way you get to the western slopes, the main drop of mountains from Abbott Peak to about Mt Tate, you’re in a for a few hours of work. The shortest routes are from the top station at Thredbo or via Perisher to Charlotte Pass. You can also skin up via a number of routes from Guthega or, if you’re hard core, Dead Horse Gap.
But who would think of climbing from the west side? The views from The Alpine Way (the road between Thredbo and Khancoban) are some of the best alpine vistas in the whole country, but the slopes of the western faces sit so far above the road that they feel like they’re on another planet.
Enter Jack Skilbeck.
His plan is to climb the Sentinel (‘Ozlaska’) from near Geehi. Having spotted the western faces from Tom Groggin on a drive back from Jindabyne, Jack hatched the idea of an approach from the Geehi River. Where you cross the Swampy Plain/ Geehi River on the Alpine Way, you’re only at about 500 metres asl. The Sentinel is 1905 metres. He’s planning to head in there and climb The Sentinel with a group of people who have the skills (and grunt) to get up there. He’s been supported by Twelve Board Store, who say “the backcountry scene in Australia is growing and the opportunities in our own backyard are pretty exciting”. So true. And this has to stand out as an epic amongst what’s on offer in Australia.
They plan to head in via a fairly obscure route, up Lady Northcote Canyon and the Opera House Hut, then a serious climb straight up onto The Sentinel itself.
Women are often under represented in the backcountry scene, and certainly in the films that record BC adventures, so Jack’s keen to have some women along on the trip. They’ll be waiting for the right conditions, and will need a group that has the right experience and skills.
So that’s the plan, vague as it may be, but all epics have to start somewhere, and I guess this is where it begins. Next up, finding the right guide with enough local knowledge to go out back a couple times before hand to work out what the snow pack is doing leading up to the trip, and find where all the dodgy spots to avoid are, maybe even refresh the rope and axe skills. And also have the right balance and dynamic between the crew; people who know why the mountains are always calling, why they make you feel more alive than an early minute on a Friday, and why we’d shirk the shackles of the real world and bail on any plans just to sink your board or skis into some fresh dry powder.”
Check out his vision for the trip on the Twelve Board Store’s website, and get in touch if you’re keen.