Mt Carruthers North Chutes and South West Sentinel Trip Report 3/8/2014
This is the third trip report from John Blankenstein.
Wind and rain had crept back into the mountains with a series of less than adequate “not so cold fronts” which threatened to unhinge my winter. Optimistic, I was certain that cooler air would be drawn up into the cycle of precipitation by Thursday evening. I got a call from Mike at First tracks Snowboard store Jindabyne on Thursday night with reports of wind gusts in excess of 190km from a cat driver on top of Guthega, by 9pm that night snow finally entered the equation and by Saturday morning we had received a healthy recharge of up to 20cm of dry pow.
Saturday the 2nd was spent doing some resort style circuits with the kids before sessioning some of the best snow ever encountered on Mt Tate. A quick Extended Column Test resulted in an ECTN 21 with a shear quality of Q3 (Pretty good result). Assess, assess and assess again. With similar results and still surprised by the tests I treaded lightly for the first few runs whilst still looking for signs of instability. Evening rolled around pretty quickly so it was back to camp for an early night. Morning broke and I meet up with a few mates and good friend Mark Fenner at the trail head before heading off. Making good time on the ascent is critical to the day and my Jones Solution Split provides the best vehicle money can buy. Travelling in the back country is all about conserving energy and making a long approach on a split board is by far the best form of travel.
My objective today was the South West Chute of Mt Sentinel. In order to reach this summit requires a few good descents and none better than Mt Carruthers north side. My line was chosen and down I went. Snow was surprisingly good on the north aspect due to super cold temperatures. Despite recent rain this particular chute was holding more snow than when I sessioned it a fortnight ago. A great descent to the bottom and back up onto the ridge provided a great vantage point in which to scope the Sentinel. A quick down into James Macarthur Creek followed by a gear change and into some more appropriate climbing attire (boot crampons and poles) it was straight up the guts.
It turns out that my better judgment and selection of climbing gear paid off as the south face was a mix of POW and ice with some very sketchy steep iced out sections along the climb route. With adventure flowing through my veins I was nearing the summit when both my crampons decided to come off at the heel. Not good when your toe pointing your way to the top. A fall here would almost be guaranteed disaster. I reached around for my ice screw and sling only to find that it had been lost along the route. No ice screw to attach too? No problem! Cool headed I reached for my axe and dug a suitable bench for reattaching my crampons. Now on a safe platform mid mountain I made the necessary adjustments. Once satisfied that they would remain it was onward and upward. By now I was in need of a feed. I was pointing it for the trig as I was determined to eat my ham and salad roll and sip on the sunshine.
Finally on the summit I waited for Mark to join me before soaking up some of the very best alpine real estate Australia has to offer. After a short lunch break it was back to business and the art of snowboarding. I took the south western line of the summit which provided some good riding and vertical relief. Shortly after descending Mark came flying down nailing some sweet POW on the south east aspect. High on excitement I tried to convince mark into another drop as there are so many options in this zone. Starry eyed I tried to fuel Mark up on my remaining supplies. With Fatigue setting in and not keen on the prospect of another climb Mark made his intentions clear and we decided to head back following a slightly longer home route which would result in a run down Mt Tate and hopefully some POW!. It’s all about compromise and teamwork when travelling together. Being able to sum up and know how much energy you have in the tank is critical when touring the Western Faces. Fatigue leads to clumsiness, which results in accidents. You really need to move to your own beat and trust your instincts. Waving good bye to the North West Spur of Mt Townsend we made our ascent on skins up to the Sentinel Ridge.
Once on this favorite ridge line and bridge to the main range, our return loop had begun. With temptation all around me and trying not to look down and into endless possibilities I closed my eyes and practiced the art of ZEN. Sticking together we made good time across the ridge and onto the main range.
From here it was a quick skin to Mt Twynam, descending around Mt Anton and into Pounds Creek before another short skin to the top of Mt Tate. The ride back down Tate in the alpenglow was all time. The quality of the snow was immaculate and provided a few rewarding face shots. Getting in on dark our trip was complete. After 30 km, 11 hours and 2100 meters vertical it was time for a beer and a laugh.
Traveling in the mountains by foot provides ample time for reflection. It is here that I converse with the wild and return to a wilderness unchanged. You get a true picture of yourself, your life and the people in it. Silence is music to my ears and the steeps of the Western Faces are my home. I challenge you all to dig deep and explore a little more. Happy trails.