Forums Trip Reports Australia: snakes, crocs and Crikey! Awesome Backcountry
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  • #577310
    Method
    151 Posts

    Anyone who’s been to Mt Hotham (ski resort in Victoria, Australia) on a bluebird day has, without doubt, looked north approximately 10km along the razorback at, arguably, Australia’s premier backcountry peak and thought, “Man, I’d give my left nut to shred that!”.

    The peak in question is Mt Feathertop. Here’s the view of her majesty from the ski resort at Hotham.

    For me, it was love at first sight :drool: . I had to have her. Our first “date” was last november in early summer when I went for a day bushwalk to scope out the lines and access.

    Unless you’re really mega-fit (i.e. not me!) and like skinning and/or bush-bashing in the dark, it’s just too far to be able to do properly in a day trip. To get the most out of it, it’s best to plan on 2 nights camping out there giving you a full day of touring on day 2 without having to worry about setting up camp or packing up and getting out etc. In terms of overnighting you have to camp in the snow (it’s national park), there’s Federation Hut (at the end of the razorback), which is fine to use for cooking, playing cards etc and is a bit feral, possum shit everywhere, but is supposedly “emergency use only”, but people seem to ignore this :nononno: :nononno: There’s also the MUMC (melbourne uni mountaineering club) hut a little further on, I’m not really sure what the deal is with this hut. I don’t really have overnight camping gear for this kind of trip, so I teamed up with Matt from Vicalps (http://www.vicalps.com/) for this trip.

    There’s quite a few different routes up.

    From the valley floor down at Harrietville (elevation 500m) it’s probably (i haven’t done this route) 3 hours to Federation hut (and most of that would be below the snowline) and from there another 1/2 hour to the peak.

    The easiest route in (if the weather’s good) is along the “razorback”, a north/south undulating ridge line from Diamantina hut (on great alpine way just below the peak at Mt Hotham). Depending on your fitness it’s a, mostly level, 4 hour skin to Federation Hut. Being a ridgeline, it’s incredibly exposed and so you’re at the mercy of the weather, it can be very icy early morning and late afternoon.

    So on the morning of the 31st of August, it was with much excitement that we drove up the great alpine way to Mt Hotham to be greeted with this:

    The weather was still a bit nasty with moderate snow showers (and wind) with intermittent sunshine, and forecast to clear that evening. We parked the car at diamantina hut and started skinning along the razorback.

    Car loaded up with splitboards, skis, packs, tents, mats, jetboils, you name it – it was strapped on the roof.

    We saw a pair of skin tracks ahead of us so I was slightly concerned someone was going to poach our virgin lines. 😥

    Heading north along the razorback, the first part is above the treeline and quite undulating. Being very “powdery”, it was easy to traverse around the bigger uphill bits and I didn’t need to get out of “tour” mode for the entire skin to our campsite. We had 5 in our group, 2 boarders (me with a split and the other boarder with a “solid” and snowshoes) and 3 skiers. Mike, on snowshoes, found it a bit hard on the traverses, but small downhills were no problem for him, whereas I “skied” them, albeit looking like quite the gaper. The next part of the razorback starts to get wooded.

    It looks like these trees are deciduous, but they’re not. They’re snowgums and a bushfire came through, I think, in 2006 and being almost alpine and slow growing they haven’t fully grown back yet. Mt Feathertop’s in the background.

    The 1st day wasn’t without its dramas. One of the skiers broke his touring binding on a small descent about an hour in, luckily he had a spare in the car (had to go back to get it though!). One of the other skiers rather over-estimated his fitness and took too much gear, so we had to ditch most of his gear about half way along the skin in.

    The weather started to clear in the afternoon and I got my first view of the old girl in the distance.

    Holy hell this pack was heavy! 😯

    Snow Gums

    With the delays it became obvious we were never going to make our campsite objective, next to Federation Hut. We set up camp for the first night in a sheltered spot on the razorback, close to high knob (where the diamantina spur meets the razorback).

    The weather just kept getting better and better and we got a beautiful sunset with a view of Feathertop.

    It was my first time camping in the snow, so I was just hoping I was going to be warm enough. It got down to -8C that night and even with a -10C rated sleeping bag and fleece pants, a gazzillion top layers + a gatorade bottle full of hot water at my feet, I was only j-u-s-t warm enough, although I am a cold sleeper 🙁 .

    I woke up early enough to catch the first rays of light hitting the summit of Mt Feathertop the next morning.

    After drooling at the sunrise and the epic day ahead, we had a quick cup of tea and smashed some brekkie and got skinnin’ :bananas:

    Not to gross you out, but this view gave me immediate wood.

    😯 then 😮 then 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    Gettin’ closer and startin’ to froth severely :drool:

    The prevailing wind is generally from the west through north, so the south-eastern side gets quite the cornice. I popped on my split crampons for the final push as the route up is totally wind-blasted and icy, although the other skinners did OK without.

    We’d seen a few skin tracks around and some snowshoe-ers, but the only 2 sets of tracks were off the sun-baked and icy looking west face :scratch: , leaving the delectable south/east faces totally untracked and ripe for the plucking. 8)

    The jjones/deeper/further line off Mt Feathertop is the aptly named “Avalanche Gully”. You can see this line in most of the photos as the steep one from the peak that goes to looker’s right. Here’s Matt and I contemplating the pro’s and con’s of dropping this line.

    Here’s what we came up with!

    Pro’s:
    Ride of your life :thatrocks:
    A Photo huckin’ that cornice! :rock:
    Bragging rights forever at the Genny (pub at Mt Hotham) 😆

    Con’s:
    Technical exit required (ice axe, crampons – we didn’t have any)
    If that cornice goes… :scratch:
    … when it does, the bottom is a massive terrain trap such that, even if your buddies dug you out, it’s likely you’d be dead anyway. :nononno:
    Being a long way from anywhere, in the event of a serious injury, it would likely take rescuers a while to get to you.

    Discretion being the better part of valour, we avoided avalanche gully and dropped a couple of different lines off the peak.

    :disco:

    Funny 2 plank thingys…

    Skinning out for another go

    :mrgreen:

    Every track you see in this photo belongs to us!!!! :rock:

    Tired and hungry we headed back to our campsite

    Long shadows…

    Drying skins in the fading light…

    Sunset back at camp

    That night back at camp, over a wee dram of scotch and a box of wine, the good people at Mt Hotham put on a fireworks display (especially for us I’m sure) and over dinner at least 10 degrees was added to the steepness of our descents that day and I’m pretty sure the number of claimed face shots on one run exceeded the total number of turns we did over whole trip! 😆

    The next day involved a 3-4 hour skin out, sorting gear and then a 4 1/2 hour drive back to melbourne, so another mission to the peak of Feathertop was ruled out 🙁 and and we decided to pick off some tasty lines off the side of the razorback. The south side of high knob looked to be holding great powder and we weren’t disappointed.

    The skin out was an absolute bitch, even though we didn’t actually drop a lot of vertical. It took us an hour and 45. The bottom was balls deep and rather steep. The gully was quite narrow and in places, I was only able to get my track a metre or so above my previous one. At one stage I thought I was just going to have to bootpack it straight up. I had stopped higher up than the others, so I broke trail (something for which I believe I’m still owed a beer or 2, you m%$%erf&*#%rs).

    This run had the best and deepest snow of the trip, something I would’ve been happy to get in japan!

    Finally at the top…

    Looks a lot mellower than it was from this angle!

    We headed back to camp to pack up and start the skin back to the car

    The packs felt distinctly heavier than at the start of the trip 🙁 and having warmed up a bit, the powdery softness of the last few days on the top of the razorback ridgeline had hardened up and I found myself having to bootpack downhills I was “skiing” on the way in.

    We waved “bye bye” to our mountainous beauty…

    Looking back on our tracks down “high knob”

    I think I spy some lines for my next trip!!!! :thatrocks:

    It was a hard slog back, the sun was getting low and the eastern side of the razorback was icing up really quickly (the western side’s too thickly wooded to traverse) as the sun got low. Thank goodness I had my split crampons. I must’ve gone from bootin’ it to skinning to putting in and removing split crampons a dozen times.

    Finally back at diamantina hut.

    Mt Feathertop from the valley floor

    Check out the video, if you don’t watch the whole thing at least watch from 00:20 secs to 1min 20 secs.

    [vimeo:2ds5b6p8]http://www.vimeo.com/49660522[/vimeo:2ds5b6p8]

    Poetic part: This year has been my “endless winter”. In amongst trips in the last 9 months to japan, canada, AK and NZ, of course nothing quite comes close to the “gnar factor” of a 50 degree chugach powder run, BUT to bag an awesome peak like feathertop in powdery, bluebird conditions less than 5 hour drive from from front door, has got to be the coolest thing ever! 😀 :disco:

    Stopped off in Wang on the drive home for the obligatory Macca’s, THE END :rock:

    #659290
    IrishGav
    254 Posts

    haha you boys scored! :bananas:

    #659291
    BobGnarly
    220 Posts

    Ahh 31st of august, the best day of the season!

    #659292
    whistlermaverick
    312 Posts

    It looks like these trees are deciduous, but they’re not. They’re snowgums and a bushfire came through, I think, in 2006 and being almost alpine and slow growing they haven’t fully grown back yet. Mt Feathertop’s in the background.

    Love this shot. So cool to see all the different terrain.
    Thanks for the stoke.

    @j.memay

    #659294
    Method
    151 Posts

    Love this shot. So cool to see all the different terrain.
    Thanks for the stoke.

    whistlermaverick,

    Glad you like it. Barring a stealth splitboard trip to the main range (NSW) in the next few weeks, unlikely as I have to work :thumbsdown: or a possible, but also unlikely, tactical strike on Japan in december – that’s it for me until Feb/Mar next year.

    Sooooo, I’m relying on you northern hemisphere splitters to keep me fired up with some cool trip reports :headbang:

    #659295
    TEX
    2486 Posts

    Really cool TR. Never though of splitboarding or snow in Australlia till you guys started posting. As Whistler Mavrick said its nice to see different terrain. August huh? It was over 100 degress farenheight here.
    Good Job man

    #659296
    nickstayner
    700 Posts

    Awesome TR! Great job with the photos.

    #659298
    spruce cabin
    263 Posts

    Snow in Australia? Awesome!

    And what a kick arse – TR! Looks like a blast, mate.

    Thanks for sharing.

    #659299
    Epicpow
    57 Posts

    Awsome TR, looks like an amazing trip. Thanks for bringing us some preseason stoke!

    #659297
    ausplit
    53 Posts

    Great report,The area may get a dusting this weekend. :thumpsup:

    #659293
    firstlight
    721 Posts

    Method.
    I think the VIC festival next year will be in this area. Nice effort.

    Adam West

    www.firstlightsurfboards.com.au
    www.firstlightsnowboards.com.au
    www.splitfest.com.au
    www.snowsafety.com.au
    www.mrbc.com.au
    www.backcountryglobal.com
    www.alpinefirstaid.com.au

    #659289
    Dan9
    44 Posts

    That was awesome, Method, thanks a lot!!!

    #659300
    russman
    689 Posts

    Really enjoyed this!

    #659301
    snowsavage
    312 Posts

    Oz looks suer rad to me for some spring touring. Nice.

    Whats the story with the steeper tighter terrain a little farther up the highest peak from where u guys dropped in?

    Someone needs to shred that.

    #659302
    Method
    151 Posts

    Whats the story with the steeper tighter terrain a little farther up the highest peak from where u guys dropped in?

    I assume you’re talking about “Avalanche gully” which is the one half in shadow in this photo. It’s definately “shred-able”, however it requires a technical exit, ice axe (or 2) and crampons which we didn’t have.

    Here’s the top. Looks quite mellow once you huck the cornice, but it really steepens up, depending on your line there is the odd mandatory air. It’s not called “avalanche gully” for nothing! It’s a massive terrain trap too, there aren’t too many safe zones if it slides on you. We deemed it too dangerous, as it’d had quite a bit of snow over the previous week (+ wind loading). A guy died skiing that gully last year, so you definitely need to be a bit cautious.

    Having said that, it’s on my “to do list” when the conditions are right! :mrgreen:

    #659303
    snowsavage
    312 Posts

    Method, thanks for getting back to me on this. It is so interesting to see such terrain in Australia. Very cool. I am talking about that entire zone starting from the shadow line in your first photo above and then heading right to the end of the rock bands. It look like a very fun playground with a ton of different lines. I dont doubt it is dangerous at times and that is very unfortunate that there have been accidents there, in fact I am very surprised to hear that anyone has ever died in an avalanche in Australia. In the states we dont think of Austrailia when we think of big dangerous terrain! That is why your TR is really cool for me to see. I would guess that on the right day some nice, steep , technical stuff on that face could be skied. I would be interested in seeing photos of that someday. 😛

    #659304
    firstlight
    721 Posts

    Method
    let me know if you got my PM

    Cheers

    Adam West

    www.firstlightsurfboards.com.au
    www.firstlightsnowboards.com.au
    www.splitfest.com.au
    www.snowsafety.com.au
    www.mrbc.com.au
    www.backcountryglobal.com
    www.alpinefirstaid.com.au

    #659305
    Coon
    43 Posts

    I think you guys have now legitimately made the best turns in Oz. Sick stuff.

    #659306
    firstlight
    721 Posts

    Jetlag
    We will be doing some more stuff this year and it will be on film
    The faces indicated by Purple.

    Anyone want to join us?

    Kyle?
    Cheers

    Adam West

    www.firstlightsurfboards.com.au
    www.firstlightsnowboards.com.au
    www.splitfest.com.au
    www.snowsafety.com.au
    www.mrbc.com.au
    www.backcountryglobal.com
    www.alpinefirstaid.com.au

    #659307
    Coon
    43 Posts

    @firstlight wrote:

    Jetlag
    We will be doing some more stuff this year and it will be on film
    The faces indicated by Purple.

    Yeah ive been there to surf one winter (04) which I guess was a big snow year for you guys. The entire flight from Sydney to Adelaide was full of snow. Musta been incredible down south in the mountains. Never imagined there was this good of terrain.

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