Thursday, September 6, 2012


See this post for another trip across.

I don't often revisit trips of the past as they seem to lose all the detail over time which is important to me when writing about our adventures. Some trips however seem to linger for longer, so before age extracts any more detail from the grey matter, I'll etch the remainder into the blog stone.

For those who are familiar with the K2K, well...this will be an amusing post. For those that know nothing of the classic 80k route from Kiandra in the Northern end of Kosciusko National Park, to Thredbo (the commonly accepted finish point these days)...well it may also be an amusing post.

I'll start by saying that in August 2003 I completed the same route on snow shoes and snowboard solo in 5 days. It was an amazing trip that opened my mind to what was on offer in our own backyard. My dreams of polar crossings gained momentum from plodding around KNP in the early days and allowed a steady flow of knowledge and experience to build.

In 2009 Dana and I decided to retrace the same route, but take our time and ride some of the more remote peaks in the park. We had two weeks worth of food and equipment and no set agenda. At the time Dana had only two or three days skiing experience and hauled a fairly hefty load in some trying conditions.

With a gale force wind warning and prefrontal rain arriving on the day of our departure we left slightly nervous about the journey ahead......

Within 20 minutes of leaving the first drops of rain started to fall, and continued all day. It was miserable to say the least, but the gale force winds were only moderate in the northern end of the park which allowed us to keep moving until at 2.30pm when we made camp as the heavens opened.
It continued on and off during the night but the temps were too warm for snow.

The snow pack was heavy and wet and I knew it was going to be marginal on the Happy Jacks plain, but woke to snow falling on the second day. The first day was tough and I had spent a fair portion of the day dragging the pulk over grass and gravel trying desperately to keep on snow to protect the bottom and to make it easier to haul.  Day 2 started a little easier but turned into a long day as we aimed for Happy's Hut in the hope of drying out some gear.

We were within striking distance of the hut when darkness arrived so with head torches on, we took a bearing and headed off down a fairly steep and manky traverse. Dana had to keep the pulk from rolling and it was quite amusing at first trying not to get run down by the 30kgs of food and gear from behind but the novelty wore off after numerous falls.

As the the pitch flattened out, the snow stopped so we left the gear and spent the next half an hour searching for the hut amongst the stands of snowgums. I hadn't visited this particular hut before as I'd aimed for Brooks last time, so nothing was familiar. I finally spotted it and headed back to the gear which was only a few hundred meters away.......

What happened next was slightly humorous . We couldn't find the hut again. It was cold and I was still wearing a T shirt and had started to fade. Dana needed to stop NOW , and we had used the last of our drinkable water. It was past 8.00pm and we were simply fatigued from hauling and had hit the wall. After making a lame effort in the dinner department we fell asleep instantly.

The next day was perfect....Warm, sunny and clear skies. The view out the door of the tent had us laughing as we could now see the state of Happy Jacks plain. I knew we would have to be creative with our route choice through this section, but this required the fucking brush stroke of an artist. I'm not sure what kind of personality disorder makes a person laugh when confronted with adversity but I suffer from it.

We found the hut a mere 80 meters from the tent so we decided laze around in the sun and kick back for a while. It is such a beautiful spot and it was 2.00pm before we decided to do a few K's!

The day was perfect and we could have stayed forever but the lure of Mt Jagungal and the craggy northern side awaited. I had wanted to ride the steeper side for years and every time I had been close, I'd run out of time or the conditions weren't right. Despite the view spread out before us, I still held onto the faint hope that it may just be rideable.

The day was slow but the enjoyment of hard physical exertion and the emotions that go with it kept us in high spirits. There were numerous boggy sections to navigate through so trying to stay high was helpful but as time went by it became increasingly more frustrating keeping the pulk upright.

We pulled up on a nice bend next to Happy Jacks creek just as the stars filled the sky. Dinner was prepared under an amazing sea of light and once again slept heavily under a blanket of fatigue. I was hauling a total of 55kg's between the pulk and pack which would have been a breeze had there been any snow.

Day 4 arrives with the same perfect weather so we decide to get into it early and leave camp by 10.00am. Why rush! We find whats left of the old footbridge and spend way too long ferrying gear across. A packraft would have been perfect for this section as the creek was flowing well and 3k's an hour would have been fast compared to our speed.

I was desperate for the wind to pick up, as I had an 8 metre snow kite that potentially could have lightened the load somewhat....Wouldn't that have been a sight! I could only imagine what people may have thought if they stumbled across that little setup, but under a fat high pressure system it was never going to happen.

The rest of the day was spent trying to find easy ground for the pulk. Hauling up onto the ridges, then back down in search of anything that would stop it from getting bogged down in swampy grass, or flipped over by knee high tussocks. As we arrived at Macgregors creek the pulk flipped for the 100th time and as it did, Dana said, "We may have a slight problem"....

I was horrified to see that the bottom had worn through both main runners and was full of mud, water and grass. I was concerned for several reasons, but the one that worried me the most was that the pulk was not mine. To this day it was the only regret of the trip and the owner was incredibly nice about the whole deal all things considered. (Sincere apologies again)

I had spent the month prior to the trip building a plug for my own carbon fiber pulk, but had simply run out of time as the process is time consuming. It requires building the plug, then a mold from the plug and finally the actual pulk from the mold. Stage one of three wasn't even close.

As usual panic gave way to laughter and after coming up with all sorts of escape plans, the logical one seemed to be continuing on and seeing how far we could get before the damage was terminal. After endless creek crossings, swampy hauling and difficult terrain for the pulk we make camp again and settle in as the clouds roll in ahead of the next front which was due in the next 24 hours or so.

The fifth day arrived with clear skies and warm weather again so we decided to sleep in and aim for Mackeys hut which was only two and a half kilometers away. More of the same ensued and upon reaching Tibeaudo's creek it was back to unpacking and repacking the pulk. The next hill was testing.

Standing at the bottom looking for a route up through thick regrowth and a consistent steep, rocky pitch, had us thinking about multiple trips back and forth. In the end I figured once would be enough.....It was a difficult section but nearing the top, we finally hit our first patches of snow in days.

The day went well all things considered and the sight of Mackeys hut was a welcoming one, and I had to laugh when thinking back to the last time I visited the hut. I'd passed through on my second day and had a cuppa with another solo skier in 2003. I continued on to camp at Spencers peak while trying to outrun a front on that occasion.

We spent the remainder of the day relaxing and waiting for the next front to arrive and as the evening rolled on, the rain began to fall. It was frustrating because of the warm temps, and by the morning no snow had fallen. So far our focus had been travel and we were keen to start some skiing and riding, but I knew we were going to run out of time if conditions didn't start improving.

It poured all morning and the decision was made to take the day off and wait out the prefontal rain. At 5Âșc the chance of snow was zero and we wait for the wind to arrive which it does around 10.30am.
Finally at 4.30pm the snow arrives but not a great deal. The drop in temperature was more important as from here on in, saving what was left of the snowpack was critical.

Day 7 arrived clear and crisp with around 2cm of new snow which we take advantage of and leave early. We follow Tibeaudo creek and then skirt the side of Spencers Peak which is a shitty route as usual (the Spencer traverse) but make it to Cesjacks hut in reasonable time.

Cesjacks was a hive of activity with what seemed like 15 or more people eying us off like we were going to steal some bed space. Both times I've visited, my impression was the same and after asking for an updated weather forecast, we gladly moved on.
The forecast was for a front due within hours so we tried to pick up the pace and find a place that was not too exposed. The wind was fairly strong as we setup, and although it wasn't the safest spot, the weather was reasonably tame in the end. It snows during the night but end up waking to less snow due to the warm temps.

Day 8 starts fine and sunny again and I'm now convinced that somewhere along the way, the focus went from riding remote peaks to simply making distance. The snow pack is wet and heavy and we post hole most of the day, falling through low heath and into unseen sink holes. Everything is in a serious state of melt, and it becomes a race against time to cross as many creeks as we can.

There were many snow bridges that on any other day we would have looked for better crossings, but we pushed our luck to the limit. We were dragging packs and the pulk over with a rope and treading as lightly as possible, one at a time only to hear the underside collapse into the creeks.

Dana considers skiing but every few hundred metres and we hit grass. Being higher up on the range is promising but I already knew that crossing the Valentine creek will be near on impossible before we can even see it. We make camp at Tarn Bluff and it begins to rain....then it pours for three hours.

My feet were holding up well considering I was in newish boots. Day 9 dawned with low cloud and a light drizzle. We were keen to get to Mawson Hut but as we broke camp and moved up to higher ground, visibility dropped to mere metres. I took a bearing and we moved through an area of swampy flat terrain. It was impossible to tell what was underneath the snow and we broke through into knee deep water several times which was difficult with snowshoes and a loaded pulk.

I followed Dana towards an island of grass and without warning I broke through the snow into a sink hole. I sunk up to my armpits and watched as huge sheets of ice broke up as I tried to move forward still attached to the pulk which was now sinking. I fought my way forward driving off the bottom towards what I had hoped was the edge as Dana grabbed me by the pack and started hauling me out. I kept charging forward until the pulk was out and we lay back wide eyed and smiling.

We made the decision to keep moving as I was warm and the temps were moderate enough to start drying out. Once we hit the ridge, it's clear that crossing the Valentine will be a swim. We spent an hour looking for a place to cross but it was raging, and despite being able to see Mawson hut on the other side we make the call to head for Tin hut and stay safe. We travel on for a while then make camp as the temperature starts to plummet.

That night a front passes through and the wind gets a little crazy. I wake at 1am to blizzard conditions, and get up to build a snow wall before the tent takes off. We sleep until 5am and get up for more shovel work before things moderate. We were supposed to meet the two Craig's at Schlink hut which wasn't going to happen but we are stoked with some colder conditions that allow for easy travel.

It's very icy as we head for Tin hut. During the morning we bump into another solo traveler heading for Schlink and he asks us for an updated weather report as he had been out for 5 days. I laughed as I told him I'd burnt my last 5 day report 5 days ago. The weather was deteriorating and we wished him a safe trip over the Kerries and continued on. Dana is keen for some hauling and does some time in the harness.

We travel through one of my favorite areas before reaching the hut which is full. We pitch the tent again and I finally get phone reception to call Craig for a weather report. Blizzard conditions for the next 48 hours.... The wind is galeforce and snow pummels the tent all night. The usual midnight shoveling ensues.

On day 11 we wake to more of the same. The weather is still raging so we decide to wait it out, as there is no point heading off when we have plenty of time, food, music and books to read. Later in the day, I made a dash to the hut to have a chat with the other skiers but find it empty. By the look of the tracks, they had only just left. Dana and I take the opportunity to dry out some gear in the hut after a very wet journey and laugh about the fact we haven't locked into our bindings once in 11 days!

Day 12 arrives and the wind is still fairly strong but the system has passed, so we head over Gungarten Pass. I'm gutted that there is now no time for riding as we have to meet Craig at Guthega power station at 5pm so we can pick up our car at Thredbo. We confirm our pick up at Schlink pass and Dana has a great ski along the Whites River corridor. We start reflecting on the trip and realise that despite some very marginal conditions and not achieving any of our initial objectives, it had been one of the best trips we have both done.

I've been asked numerous times about why we didn't turn around at Happy Jacks Plain....It just never occurred to me that going backwards was an option.....

A short video.....

K2K from Darren on Vimeo.