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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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backcountry

The steepest couloir in Australia?

If you’ve ever walked or climbed in Tasmania, you’re probably aware of the eastern face of Mt Geryon in the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. It has climbs of more than 350 metres in length and is a truly inspiring mountain environment. There are a series of couloirs that break the cliffs to the north of Geryon, along the spine of the Ducane Range.

Ben Armstrong recently skied the most impressive of these lines.

Continue reading “The steepest couloir in Australia?”

Backcountry gathering in Melbourne

As you will probably know, we have turned the 2020 Victorian backcountry festival into a three day event, from Friday – Sunday Sept 4, 5 and 6. Things will kick off on Friday morning so hopefully you can make a long weekend out of it. After receiving strong positive feedback, we will be running another guided trip straight after the festival, probably to Mt Bogong.

Quite a lot of people have expressed interest in getting involved in planning the 2020 festival.

So if you’re in Melbourne, please come along to this BC Fest get together.

Thursday NOV 28.

Upstairs at Friends of the Earth, 312 Smith St, Collingwood. Enter via the side, on Perry Street, and head up the stairs.

We’ll start at 6.30pm, have a quick chat about how you can get involved (there will be a series of working groups taking on different parts of the festival like the touring program, the speakers program, the outdoor bar, etc). Please bring your ideas and enthusiasm about what you want to contribute next year to make it bigger and better.

Then from 7 til 8pm (ish) we will drag a few classic backcountry films out of the vault and enjoy on the big screen (ingredients likely to contain Jeremy Jones shredding big lines in Alaska). Please feel free to BYO drinks. Free event.

Facebook event page here.

Come along and catch up with the BC crew.

If you can’t make it along, remember that you’re welcome  to complete a brief survey about the festival and what you would like to see next year.

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Calling Backcountry film makers

Are you a backcountry skier, snowboarder or snow shoer who also makes films?

We are looking for some short, locally made backcountry films to screen at the Backcountry Film Festival (BCFF) in Melbourne (March or April 2020) and the 3rd Victorian Backcountry Festival (Mt Hotham, September 2020). The BCFF program is put together by the US-based Winter Wildlands Alliance, and this season features a great line up of films (details here). But we like to open up the season with a local film.

Here’s an example of one from a couple of years ago – Mt Townsend 2209. If you’re keen to contribute something please get in touch. Cam.walker@foe.org.au

It needs to be under 7 minutes and suitable quality for a big audience of backcountry enthusiasts.

Check here for details on the Backcountry Film Festival.

VIC backcountry festival 2020

After receiving resounding feedback about the 2nd Victorian Backcountry festival, we have decided to lock in dates and locations for 2020.

It will be a three day festival, held from Friday to Sunday, September 4 – 6.

Due to the huge level of support from the Hotham community and businesses and attendees, we will keep the festival at Hotham.

We will keep the basic format – lots of tours and workshops, speaker’s program, outdoor bar, AST 1 avalanche training, and an extended trip after the festival. Spreading the festival over three days will allow us to fit more in.

There is still time to provide feedback. Check the online form here. We’re getting some really great feedback on how to make it a better event, so please take a few minutes to let us know your thoughts.

If you know of any major clashes with these dates, please let us know asap. Cam.walker@foe.org.au

See you out there.

Report on the 2019 VIC backcountry festival

The 2019 Victorian backcountry festival is done and dusted. This year the BC Fest moved to Mt Hotham, and it was wonderful to see the Hotham – and broader BC community – embrace the new location. Hotham is the perfect spot because of the amazing terrain, ease of access and strong backcountry community, both on the mountain and down valley in Bright and Harrietville. Close to 400 people registered. We had 31 tours, skillshares and workshops, an extended speaker’s program, a Protect Our Winters info and film night and a ski-in outdoor bar at Village Lookout in the Christmas Hills.

Thanks

The first thing I need to do is thank everyone who backed or got involved in the festival. Of course, there are too many names, but here’s a start:

Bev Lawrence David F
Bev Lawrence, Environmental Officer Mt Hotham Resort Management [Image: David Flanders]

Resort management and lift company were fantastic in their support. Special thanks to Adam Galvin and Jason Nightingale from resort management and snow groomer Greg O’Donohue. The venues were so supportive – big thanks especially to Sooty, Darren and everyone at The General, Marty at The SnowBird, and Mark at Blizzard Brewery. And the people who pitched in to help, especially Buff Farnell, Kelly van den Berg, who brought in so many skilled tour leaders, and Merrin Jokic, who MC’d an epic afternoon of speakers. Rupert from Bright Brewery, Mel and Luka from Crepe Collective and Steve Belli did the food and drinks at our outdoor bar. The bar itself was a work of art, a product of much digging by my partner Natalie, Dave, Peter, and my brother Mitch, Kyle, Simon and his crew. The speaker’s program was huge and people made a real effort to be there. Thanks to Josh from POW and Stephen Curtain for his film making workshop. Dave, Pieta and Luka from Alpine Access ran avalanche courses as the training partner for the festival. Big thanks to Peter Campbell and all the Bush Search and Rescue crew, Jason Ball from Vic Police SAR, and Rolf Schonfeld for his endless commitment to snow and avalanche safety. A deep bow to head of ski patrol Bill Barker who provided impeccable advice on conditions and inspiring presentations at The Genny. Simon Murray dug snow pits and did most of our graphic design. Chris Hocking and Drew Jolowicz provided amazing sidecountry images. David Flanders was our rego desk guy and podcast interviewer extraordinaire.

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Bush Search & Rescue workshop

Of course, the tour leaders, who brought incredible skills and knowledge and donated their time and insights and were all amazing. And you – the backcountry community, who showed up and pitched in. It really was a fantastic and inspiring weekend.

In my post festival delirium I know there are many more people to thank.

Next year

bar
The outdoor bar at Village Lookout

From resounding feedback, it’s clear that the festival has come home to Hotham. We need to check dates and lock in venues but we’re hoping it will happen over the weekend of September 5 and 6, 2020.

Highlights

As was the case last year, we worked hard to ensure a diversity of voices in the speaker’s program. Melissa Clarke provided a phenomenal level of knowledge about touring the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains and the joys and pitfalls of touring with pulks (sleds). Ash Peplow Ball spoke compellingly of the need for the snow sports community to get organised to protect winter. Bill Barker shared his knowledge of Hotham avalanche hotspots. Tim Macartney-Snape shared more than 40 years worth of incredible images of climbing and skiing big peaks around the world. Bev Lawrence and Georgina Boardman updated us on the plight of the Mountain Pygmy Possum and efforts to protect remnant communities. Hotham legend Buff Farnell shared some of his favourite images of skiing Hotham over many decades, many of them from acclaimed photographers Andrew Barnes and Karl Gray. Climate striker and skier Naimh Smith-O’Connor finished off the POW night with a powerful message. Ted Suurkivi, Mark Frost, Mia Walker, Kelly van den Berg, Lisse Dunser, Simon Murray and Josh Fletcher also spoke.

Georgina Boardman DF
Georgina Boradman, MHRMB. [Image: David Flanders]

We tried to offer a range of beginner and intermediate courses, covering everything from snow shoeing to ski mountaineering. There was self rescue and first aid, navigation and snow camping. After a warm and sunny week, Saturday morning saw the return of winter and considerable avalanche risk, so many tours ended up going ‘south side’ into places like Women’s Downhill rather than onto the higher peaks. Amine from LetsSplit led another successful splitboard outing and with better conditions on the Sunday, there were trips out to the Workshop Chutes, Dargo Bowl, Eagle Ridge and Mt Loch. Daniel Sherwin and Kyle Boys are leading the three day trip out to Feathertop which starts this morning.We also had a strong presence from a number of outdoor brands. The North Face put up their expedition dome, Wilderness Sports made the journey from Jindabyne, and Everest Sports and Snow Sports and Travel and Mammut were also on board, offering a wide range of demo gear and products. Patagonia provided prizes for the POW event, and Blue Dinosaur offered heaps of energy bars. Thanks also to the businesses who offered inkind support through providing venues.

Merrin DF
Merrin Jokic

There were glitches and things that could have been done better. Thankyou to everyone for their good humour and generosity of spirit throughout the festival.

We all love snow

After a huge weekend, I’m starting the final packup and enjoying this fresh snow. There will be an online feedback poll circulated to people who registered this week and I would also welcome your direct feedback via email. It’s clear that we are onto something with these festivals and it now needs to grow beyond being a one man show. The remarkable growth in the festival in just two years and keen interest shows that there is a deep interest in the backcountry. I hope that we can set up an organising team for the 2020 festival soon.

Josh DF
Josh Fletcher from POW. [Image: David Flanders]

By definition, skiing and riding in the backcountry is something we tend to do in small groups. It was wonderful to see and meet some many great people, share a beer around a fire on a gorgeous mountain top, and see the energy and enthusiasm as people came back in from their tours. We’re a diverse bunch and have the shared love of mountains, deep snow and winter and it was great to have had the chance to help bring a good chunk of the BC community together to enjoy some turns, have good conversations, and some wonderful time out in our wild and beautiful mountains.See you next year. Cam

IMAGES.

A couple of images from the festival. Please send me yours for use on the website and promos: cam.walker@foe.org.au or post on the event facebook page.

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crowd at POW DF
Watching ‘Treeline’. Image: David Flanders]

demo CW

sat tour Peter Robinson
Saturday snowshoe tour [Image: Peter Robinson]
Naimh DF
Climate striker and skier Niamh. [Image: David Flanders]
Mt Loch Vincent Cover
Mt Loch trip. [Image: Vincent J Cover]

 

Continue reading “Report on the 2019 VIC backcountry festival”

Lets Split trip to Guthega

Lets Split is a volunteer based initiative, designed to expand and strengthen the Australian Splitboard community.  They say ‘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 Guthega in the Snowy Mountains.

Continue reading “Lets Split trip to Guthega”

Crazy conditions in the backcountry

The Alps have a remarkable variety of conditions in the backcountry at present and it would be wise to carefully scope slopes before committing.

In the Hotham area there are significant patches of water ice which have formed over the snow and large areas of ice sheets. In wind affected and exposed locations, the sastrugi can be have and very difficult to ski. But depending on aspect, there are also sun affected slopes that offer forgiving conditions on northerly and north west facing slopes. However, there was a significant sized wet slide of snow at Mt Buller today (Aug 31) and potential for wet slides in other areas that have become loaded with wet and heavy snow. On some slopes in the north east of the state, runs start nicely but have continuous sheet ice on lower sections. This has been reported on popular sidecountry runs like Women’s Downhill at Mt Higginbotham.

The take home message is that there is a wild variety of conditions and some of these are very dangerous. Please be very cautious in your backcountry travels and take particular care to scope slopes for ice before committing.

The tragic death of Dave Blair on Mt Bogong this week underscores the dangerous conditions. It is understood that Dave hit ice and crashed into trees in the Eskdale Spur area. A recent major rescue at Mt Hotham was required after an experienced rider took a long slide on ice and hit a tree in avalanche gully.

Remember to check the Mountain Sports Collective backcountry conditions bulletin before heading out.

[IMAGE: the southern slopes of The Twins in north east Victoria earlier this week. These slopes were dangerously ‘bulletproof’].

UPDATE: SEPT 2

Conditions are still very patchy. For instance, Dargo Bowl at Hotham is skiing nicely, but adjacent slopes are still bullet proof.

Bill Barker, head of Hotham ski patrol says:

“A short period of border-line precipitation during the early evening followed by the cooling in the early hours will mean most aspects and elevations will now have a solid melt freeze surface and will pose a very significant sliding hazard. Solar aspects will soften for good spring turns once the day warms but be very cautions of south facing slopes that will stay hard all day. There may still be patches of dry snow at the very top but this will most likely turn to bullet proof ice mid slope. Take care out there”.

Avalanche refresher course at Hotham

If you’ve done an AST1 avalanche course in the past and want to brush up on your avalanche skills before the Spring touring season or getting into the backcountry overseas – Alpine Access Australia is offering an AST1 Refresher. It will happen the day before the Victorian backcountry festival starts.

It consists of a day in the backcountry, with a hands-on approach covering

  • multiple burial companion rescue,
  • terrain and route selection,
  • snowpack analysis, weather and safe backcountry choices.

At Mt Hotham, Friday 6th September.

Details, gear list and bookings available here.

Beacon search station at Mt Hotham

Rolf Schönfeld is a local from north east Victoria with a passion for backcountry safety. This winter he has set up an avalanche beacon search station close to the summit of Mt Hotham. It is located on the Great Alpine Road near the parking spot for The Cross, between Diamantina hut and the Loch carpark. If you’re traveling past and spot Rolf’s red land cruiser, drop by and brush up on your beacon search skills.

20190821_153957He is also offering avalanche beacon training as part of the Victorian backcountry festival, which will happen at Mt Hotham over the weekend of September 7 and 8 (check here for full details).

There is a crowd fund campaign to establish a permanent Avalanche Training Centre (ATC) at Hotham, which would be a permanent version of the system for training transceiver and probe search that Rolf sets up at The Cross. To find out more about this project to GoFundATC, check here.

Rolf runs a business called Rescue Technologies – you can find out more here.

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Rolf

 

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